When it comes to keeping New Year’s resolutions, the statistics are bleak. According to one estimate, nearly half of Americans make the annual commitment to bettering themselves, but only eight percent of people actually stick to them. Woof.
But that’s not to say that resolutions are inherently flawed—that same data suggests people who set explicit goals are 10 times more likely to achieve them. Instead, the numbers are proof that people are, frankly, pretty bad at selecting a resolution and setting out a game plan, year…after year…after year.
Happiness guru Gretchen Rubin, the best-selling author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Life and The Happiness Project, is here to help you put together a concrete roadmap for going after those goals—and owning them in 2017.
Here are Rubin’s top tips for making better resolutions this year.
1. Be concrete
If Rubin had to pick the top resolution mistake people make, it’s not being specific enough about how their goals can and should take form every single day. “People say things like, ‘I want to be in the moment,’ or ‘I want to eat healthy,’ but what does that mean?” Rubin asks. Granular goals don’t sound as sexy, but they’re easier to stick to because they’re specific and well thought out.
So instead of resolving to eat healthy, say something like, “I’m not going to eat more than 15 grams of sugar per serving,” or “I’m not going to get popcorn at the movies anymore,” Rubin suggests.
“One of my favorite things I ever heard was from a woman who loved art and resolved to learn more, so she’d buy postcards of her favorite artworks and put them in a big basket. She’d take a handful of them and put them in the visor of her car, and every time she was stuck in traffic she’d pull out a postcard or two and look at it,” she says. “That works on so many levels.” And one of those levels? The fact that it’s so utterly concrete.
2. Anticipate your personal loopholes
In her work Rubin has identified 10 different categories of loopholes or justifications that people regularly use to let themselves off the hook. There are things like the this-doesn’t-count loophole (i.e, “it’s fine to totally ditch my no-dairy rule because I’m on vacation”) or the tomorrow loophole (“I can blow off meditation today because I’ll totally do it tomorrow”).
It’s important to know which kind of loopholes you’re prone to—to do that, you have to be brutally honest with yourself about the ways in which you’ve tended to let yourself off the hook previously. Then be prepared to hold yourself accountable when you feel the same tendencies sinking in again. Simply anticipating your loopholes can be enough to help you reject them, Rubin says.
3. Give yourself permission to go big
“People tend to say you should make small changes and keep it manageable,” Rubin says. “For some people that’s true, but some people get bored.” Rubin knows because sometimes she’s one of them—and she personally has had a lot of success with making big changes in her life.
“I quit sugar overnight,” she says by way of example. “Most people say you can’t change a ubiquitous, powerful habit like that overnight, but for me it worked.”
Important note: This is not the same thing as diving into some crazy hardcore crash diet. Instead, it’s permission to push yourself to take big (but healthy!) steps if you know you’re the sort to be really inspired by dramatic change.
4. Pick a word
Yes, this rather directly contradicts the idea of being totally concrete about your resolutions, but Rubin says some people find zeroing in on a word for the new year resonates a lot more than outlining a specific goal. The idea is to pick a term or phrase that’s your theme for the year.
“It could be ‘adventure’ or ‘rest;’ ‘bigger’ or ‘smaller,'” Rubin says. (Her personal word for 2017? Repurpose.) The mantra can be specific or broad, and really action-oriented…or not at all. The idea is to spend some time thinking about what you want the “flavor” of your next year to be, Rubin says, then keep coming back to it again and again throughout the next 365 days.
Didn’t reach your goals last year? Here’s how to use your disappointment to crush it in 2017. And follow along with our five-week plan to have your happiest, healthiest year yet.