Even with the best intentions, New Year's Resolutions can be tough to stick to. Here are 10 ways to improve your chances of achieving your goals.

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We only live once, so why not make the most of it? The ‘Better Me‘ series hopes to give some ideas on how to add fun and meaning to our lives.

Each New Year brings with it the possibility of a fresh start. We watch as the heads of countries, communities, companies, schools, and sports teams broadcast messages of hope. We take time to remember everything that was good about the old year so that we can keep it with us. We take time to reflect on everything that was bad about the old year so that we can bid it goodbye. In doing that, many of us will compile lists of New Year’s Resolutions. The first item on our list being that this year we will stick to it. So what will we need in order to succeed? Well, we will of course need a good deal of commitment. We will also need a good list.

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1. This is not a wish list

Carried away by the magic of Christmas (and/ or the excessive consumption of alcohol), it may be tempting to compile a list of resolutions that only a superhero could achieve. If you have already compiled such a list, this may be a good time to put it in the bin. Resolutions can only be achieved if they are realistic. Feel free to aim high, but make sure you have the right tools to succeed.

2. Make it specific

Let’s take weight loss as an example. There is nothing wrong with aiming to reach your ideal weight. However, in doing that, you must determine exactly what that weight is and how long it will take you to reach it by following a healthy and sustainable nutritional plan. So, rather than resolving to “reach your ideal weight”, you should resolve to “reach X pounds by X date”. It may take you longer than a year to achieve your goal, and that’s okay.

3. Keep it short

Some of us would like to water our plants more often. Others would like to apply foot cream before bed, or brush our teeth after every meal. Although perfectly respectable, these objectives should not really make our list of New Year’s Resolutions. Don’t swamp yourself with a million and one different objectives. Stick to the ones that really matter.

If there are more than three objectives you would like to meet, consider introducing some of them at a later stage in the year. Start with the one or two resolutions that are most important and, once you feel you can handle more, add one more resolution to your list.

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4. Make it official

Even if you are only making one resolution this year, you have to make it real. Do so by committing it to paper, repeating it to yourself every morning, and sharing it with your friends and family. Only then will your resolution become tangible; only then will you feel accountable for your success or failure.

5. Find the reason

It is easier to abandon resolutions if we are not clear on the reason behind them. For example, why would you like to lose weight, stop smoking or get a promotion? Will it make you feel more confident? Will it earn you recognition among your peers? Will it make you feel healthier or more motivated?

Every time you are overcome by the temptation to smoke, over-eat or throw in the towel, you must remind yourself not only of your resolution but, more importantly, of the benefits it will bring.

6. Choose a mantra

This may sound silly but it works. Thinking back to our resolutions and their underlying reasons takes up time; perhaps too much time once we are already in the garden of temptation. Having a mantra will enable you to invoke the right thoughts at the right time: thoughts powerful enough to steer you away from temptation. The mantra need not be a word or a phrase. It could be an image of you after you have succeeded, or anything that inspires you to keep going. But remember, the more tangible and precise it is, the stronger the effect. Try to link your mantra not just to your resolution but, importantly, to its underlying cause.

7. Plan

Your overall target may be tough to meet. However, the individual steps leading to the end goal should seem both clear and feasible.

Weight loss

Taking the weight loss example above, losing a total of, say, thirty pounds will probably seem difficult. Break it down by resolving to lose two pounds per month. Seek the help of an expert in devising a diet plan that is both healthy and tailored to your needs. Before making any significant nutritional changes, make sure to speak to your doctor.

Exercise

If your goal is to exercise more, think of the types of exercise you would like to get involved in, based both on what you like and the result you want. In doing so, consider the amount of time you have available and the financial investment you are willing to make. Do not invest large amounts of money in activities you are not sure you will enjoy or to which you are reluctant to commit. You may wish to try a few things out before settling on the activities you would like to commit to long term. Base your goals on your existing level of fitness and make sure to take medical advice where appropriate.

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Work

If you would like to get a promotion or a new role by the end of the year, make a plan on how this can be achieved. First of all, you must be clear on the responsibilities the new role would entail. What skills and experience would you need in order to undertake those responsibilities? Which of those skills do you already possess and which ones do you need to work on? Once you are clear on where you stand and what direction you need to move in, have a chat with your superior(s) and your mentor about your objectives. Seek honest feedback about your progress and your chances of success. Make your expectations clear, but be open and attentive to different views and suggestions. Based on your own research and the feedback obtained, develop a plan of action. You may find upon reflection that it will take longer than a year to get promoted and, depending on your overall objectives, that may be okay.

8. Check yourself

You are more likely to abandon your resolutions halfway through the year if you have no way of measuring your progress. Why not use apps to help you achieve your goals? You could also try setting up monthly appointments in your calendar at a time you know is convenient (e.g. after work, during your lunch break or at the weekend) and use them to reflect on your progress. If a friend or family member has offered their support, get them involved. Talk to them about your progress, the difficulties you encountered and the issues you need to address. Celebrate your success with them.

9. Be flexible

Monitoring your progress will enable you to identify any consistent obstacles. It will also help you to understand what keeps you motivated. Every time you take stock, consider any changes that need to be made to your plan. For example, you may tweak your nutritional plan so that it better suits your lifestyle, or change any work-related objectives depending on changes in circumstances.

10. Keep going

Some weeks or months will be better than others. If at some point during the year you feel that you’ve gone off track, just look over your plan and pick up where you left off. Do not allow disappointment to ruin your efforts. Focus on your achievements and expect yourself to succeed.

Photo credit: kevin dooley/ Flickr

Related articles:

http://urbantimes.co/2012/08/self-motivation-8-ways-to-reinvent-yourself/

http://urbantimes.co/2012/11/10-ways-to-improve-self-control/