Less than 10% of people who make New Year’s resolutions manage to keep them. In fact by the end of January nearly 50% have fallen back into their old behavior patterns. Why is it so hard to make a change we truly believe we need? If you want to get off the merry-go-round of making and breaking commitments to your personal development, here’s some practical advice to help you get started.

Before we delve into how to keep a New Year’s resolution, let’s start by talking about why we make them in the first place. No one resolves to eat more chocolate, gain weight, or smoke more. Maybe if we did, that success rate would be higher. The point of a resolution is to do something challenging – something you know you need to do, but not necessarily something you enjoy. Here are some of the most common resolutions:

1. Quit Smoking
2. Lose Weight
3. Earn More Money
4. Spend More Time with Family
5. Get Out of Debt

While these are all admirable goals, each one of them is a tremendous challenge, and simply claiming that you are going to do one (or more!) of these is like proclaiming that you plan to paddle from New York to London in an inflatable raft.

If you truly want to make traction on a goal of this magnitude, your first step is to focus. Don’t make three to five resolutions or even two. Pick one. Only one. Now that you have narrowed your focus, you need more than commitment to get to the finish line – you need a plan. Building an action plan to keep a New Year’s resolution is no different than tackling any major task. You can do it in three steps.

Step 1 – Baby Steps: If you want to quit smoking, lay out a time period over which you are going to ramp down your habit, don’t go cold turkey on January 1st. Pick specific intervals at which you will measure your progress, and set the early bars low. If you can make it through the first one or two checkpoints, you will be far more likely to build on that success and keep going than if you set an unattainable goal and berate yourself for every slip up.

Step 2 – Get Help: There are tools and resources available to solve every personal challenge you can imagine. Don’t try to go it alone – involve your network of support from friends and relatives to professionals such as doctors, life coaches and financial advisors. Holding yourself accountable to others will force you to take action on things you would otherwise avoid or procrastinate. Ask your friends to get involved or even use the buddy system with someone who has the same goal.

Step 3 – Reward Yourself: One of the pitfalls of a resolution is that you are bound to fall off the wagon at some point in the process. When you do, your momentum takes a big hit and you may not be able to pick yourself up and carry on. Make sure you build a system of rewards into your process, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss the mark once or twice. Personal change is a big challenge and while you may not see results instantaneously, your ability to keep trying will help you get over the bumps in the road and eventually achieve your goal.

Step 4 – Make a Visual: From putting pictures of your kids on your pack of cigarettes to remind you why you really want to quit to sticking images of the rewards you’ve promised yourself for making it to the next milestone on your refrigerator, visuals can be powerful motivators. If you keep your goal in front of you day in and day out, you won’t have a chance to forget where you are headed and why.

To truly achieve your biggest of goals, you have to be fully committed to the hard work of personal growth. It’s easy to say you want to be debt free or lose 50 lbs, but when the opportunity to pull out your credit card or eat dessert arrives, your commitment is all that is standing between you and disappointment. Keep your eye on the prize and make this year your year of success!

Happy New Year!

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