How to Keep Your Resolutions (For Real This Time)

You promise you're going to change this year. Here's why we believe you.

It's a new year and you're determined to unleash the new you. Just like last year. 

But see, this year can be different. (Yes, you said that last year, too.)

The common tips for New Year's resolution success remain the same: tell your friends so you stay accountable; pick small, attainable goals; don't try to change your life all at once. 

What won't be the same in this, your lucky year, is how you approach your resolutions. So much of New Year's resolve is focused on the quick, surface ways to reach goals—vowing never to shop again to save money—that don't work well in the long run.

You can go beyond that this year.

Here are three tips to help make 2013 your lucky year:

Figure out who's fighting you.

You have to get pretty lucky to win a fight against someone you don't see. While you may be able to lose weight, get out of debt and change your life in a number of ways without examining how you got into that mess in the first place, it'll be much easier to win the fight if you see what you're up against.

And your enemies may not be so easy to see.

Weight problems, for example, are often more than just food problems. Besides missing underlying health problems, you also may be overlooking triggers that put you on the path to extra pounds before you even hit the drive-thru.

“All of our habits are keyed into situations and emotional routines,” said Jeremy Dean, a psychologist, in an interview with Forbes.

Does a case of the Mondays mean you'll be heading home from work for pizza and wine? Does daily lunch with your coworkers—great for networking, you say—mean you discard your diet and debt reduction plans?

These auto-pilot reactions in your life can override even your best intentions. So while you're clearing your house of cookies and cutting up your credit cards, consider what you think about when you choose to buy junk food or buy things you don't need. A combative enemy might be lurking in those thought processes, too.

Build your vices into your budget.

Where does all of your money go? Chances are, you don't really know. Now, another question: What do you like to buy? Much easier to answer, right? The problem for many people is spending too much money on, well, everything, leaving too little money for the things they actually want to buy. Which, of course, they buy anyway and build debt. What's the fix?

It's not, as many sharp-scissored coupon clippers will tell you, penny pinching your life away. A better approach may just be what Ramit Sethi, author of the somewhat irreverent I Will Teach You To Be Rich, calls conscious spending.

"I think people should spend extravagantly on the things they love … but you have to cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t," Sethi wrote on his blog (same name as his book).

This approach at once forces you to figure out where your money is going, figure out where you want it to go and then adjust your spending so get what you want and cut where it won't hurt as much. If your budget is light on wiggle room, you may have to cut some of what you love, too. But the idea is to make budgeting work for you, instead of being so altogether painful that you quit before you make any progress.

Get smart about your system.

No matter what you want to get done in 2013, a flawed system can stop you before you even get going. For many of us, sitting down and drawing up a long to-do list of bulletpointed tasks feels like progress. Enough progress, in fact, that many people stop right there!

Let's change that by trying "if-then planning."

This approach, as described by Heidi Grant Halvorson in the Wall Street Journal, makes your to-do list specific and actionable.

"The trick is to not only decide what you need to do, but to also decide when and where you will do it, in advance," she said.

Instead of simply noting that you need to work out, make a healthy dinner or transfer money to savings, create a list that tells you when you're going to do it.

For example, Halvorson said: "If it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday, then I’ll go to the gym before work." 

"Studies show that this kind of planning will train your brain to be ready for a certain action at a certain time," Halvorson said. "On an unconscious level, you are actively scanning your environment, waiting for the situation ... to occur."

How will you change your approach to your resolutions in 2013?


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