New Year’s is going to look a little bit different this year. Many of us are used to certain traditions and rituals that we use to mark the transition of one year into the next — a dinner party with friends and family, or a night at the club where we’d count down to midnight. These traditions are important. They can help us position ourselves in the passage of time, reflect on our past, and prepare for the future.

Though we can’t gather in crowds this year, there are still New Year’s traditions that we can lean into. We can count down to midnight over the internet or on a call with loved ones, for example. We can also keep alive the tradition of making resolutions for the new year. Goal-setting in general is a great way to self-reflect and further your personal development. Tying goals to a fresh new year can make them seem more substantial and meaningful.

However, many people struggle with New Years’ Resolutions — sometimes even to the point of feeling nervous or dreading having to set them. When done properly, New Years’ Resolutions can be fulfilling and fun, rather than frustrating and depressing. Let’s walk through how to discover, set, and stick to your resolutions for the new year.

How to Choose New Years’ Resolutions

The first step to setting New Year’s resolutions is to choose them carefully and wisely. For some people, the things they want to change about their habits and goals may be extremely clear to them. For others, the whole process can be hazy and unclear. Deeply and meditatively thinking about the resolutions you want to make is an important and necessary part of the process.

You’ll want to start planning for the future by reflecting on your past. Think back to everything that’s happened in your life within the last year. Were there times where you were unable to achieve what you wanted? What was behind the times you felt unfulfilled or inadequate? In retrospect, what kind of solutions would have been useful to you in those moments?

For example, someone might think back and realize they were frequently stuck at work because they don’t properly understand HTML. One potential New Year’s resolution for them may be to further educate themselves on front-end development.

Think back not only on your failures and shortcomings, but also on your passions, interests, and curiosities. What habits could you form over the next year that would lead to a more full and vibrant life? What habits could you break over the next year that would remove some barriers and obstacles?

How to Make Your New Years’ Resolutions Effective

You have some ideas of how you can better your life or yourself in some way. Now how do you translate this into a strong, effective resolution? If you leave it as a nonspecific principle — like reading more books, or learning a new language — it probably isn’t going to stick.

Instead, you’ll want to apply certain constraints to your resolution to make sure that it brings real results. Many find it helpful to use the SMART rule that entrepreneurs love. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

  • Specific: Make your resolution as particular as possible. Instead of saying you’ll watch less television, say you’ll limit yourself to two hours a week of television.

  • Measurable: There has to be a way for you to gauge how well you’re doing at achieving your resolution. Instead of saying you’ll learn to code, say you want to be able to use JavaScript to animate your website.

  • Achievable: You need to feel that you’ll be able to succeed at your resolution. Don’t aim for the high heavens if you know it’s improbable. You have to be able to trust in yourself and in your ability, or else you’re just setting yourself up for failure.

  • Relevant: Make your resolution something that you actually want to achieve. It needs to serve a purpose in bettering your life in some way, or else it’s just pointless, and you won’t feel a need to stick to it.

  • Time-Bound: It’s helpful to set time constraints on how you’ll achieve your resolution. If you’re trying to learn data analytics, say you’ll complete an introduction to data science course by August.

How to Stick to a New Year’s Resolution

The best way to make sure your resolution sticks is to turn it into a regular habit. If your resolution is to learn French over the next year, don’t try and squeeze in a couple hours every weekend — doing it every day for 20 minutes instead will be much more impactful. Altering your life, no matter in how small a way, is easier done if you integrate the change in a more consistent way.

The other important thing is to aim for success, but brace for failure. You might not be able to integrate your resolutions into your life perfectly. You might have slip-ups or make mistakes. Failing in small ways doesn’t matter in the long run. What does matter is that you don’t let these failures define your process, and don’t let them discourage you from continuing to achieve your resolution.

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