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Forget the Quick Fix: 3 Steps to Making a New Year’s Resolution that Sticks

The coming of the New Year has historically been a time to reflect upon the past twelve months and consider what to do with the next. With such cold and dark days, the winter is a natural time to draw into one's self for introspection and contemplation. With the bustle and activity of the holiday season over and three months of quiet winter left, now's the time to recoup and think about making changes in our lives.

In recent years, this traditional time of contemplation has been trivialized by the New Year's Resolution: the idea that we should pick a random goal—usually having to do with exercise or weight loss—and just use our willpower to make it work. But such resolutions will never lead to lasting change, as they only scratch the surface of the transformations required to make real differences in our well-being.

So should we give up the New Year's resolution? Not necessarily. Perhaps we should go deeper, and truly take advantage of this season of reflection by taking these 3 steps toward permanent change.

Step #1:

Take the time to think clearly and honestly about the past year, and identify what worked for you and what didn't. What were your biggest points of stress? Of happiness? Of sadness? Of contentment? Is there anything you can do in the next year to increase the positive areas of your life and lessen the negatives? Is there anything missing in your life? Be unafraid to think big.

Give yourself dedicated space in which to think about these questions. Take long solo walks or hikes. If you're the type of person who solves problems best while working with others, then talk your thoughts through with a trusted friend, family member, or partner.

Step #2:

Once you have an idea of what you'd like to change in the next year, consider any trade-offs you may have to make. Acknowledge that you have only a certain number of hours in each day. If you want to add something to your life—a rewarding hobby, a part-time volunteering gig—consider what you'll have to give up in return. If you want to subtract something from your life—a toxic relationship, a bad habit—figure out exactly what you'll substitute it with, so that you don't go running back to it in the end.

Step #3:

Make a list of specific, actionable goals. Vague goals are doomed to fail. To make real changes in your life, you'll have to make a plan and take the first step immediately, before your goals are buried by your day-to-day activities and relegated to the scrap heap of resolutions of years past.

Write each of your goals on a piece of paper. Beneath each goal, write TODAY, SHORT TERM, and LONG TERM. Next to TODAY, write something you can do right now to help you achieve that goal, and do it immediately, not allowing yourself to make any excuses. After you've made this important first step, then you can think about what steps you can take over the next few weeks (writing them under SHORT TERM) and what you need to do for the next few months and beyond (marking these under LONG TERM). Taking an immediate first step and having a specific step-by-step plan will bring your dreams out of the clouds and into reality—so that instead of forgetting your resolutions by February, you'll make real and lasting changes in your life.

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