5 Strategies for Highly Effective New Year's Resolutions

Here are five strategies for making your New Year's resolutions stick.

ByABC News
January 2, 2013, 2:20 PM

Jan. 2, 2013— -- Jeremy Dean doesn't like the idea that you've made a New Year's resolution yet again this year. But as a research psychologist at University College London, he knows you've gone ahead and made one anyway.

"Most resolutions are too vague, too hard and too spontaneous," he said. "You're better off taking the time to think things through and putting the necessary preparation into place so you have a chance of succeeding."

Still, if you're going to do this thing, he wants you to do it right. Here are five strategies from Dean's new book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits, for making your resolutions stick.

Balance good and bad

A positive outlook is a good start to a resolution but it will only get you so far, Dean said. You also need to think about everything that can stand in your way.

Psychologists call this technique "mental contrasting." It works, Dean said, because it fires up motivation and because it better prepares you for what can go wrong.

It also stops you from wasting time.

"If a goal isn't realistic you'll realize it as soon as you've thought through the negatives. If it's too hard, you'll quickly abandon it," Dean said.

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Focus on process

Fantasizing about being rich or thin can be oddly de-motivating, because it allows you to taste just enough success to stop you from taking action.

"You're a lot more likely to reach your goals if you focus on the steps you need to take to get there rather than the end result itself," Dean pointed out.

According to Dean, putting all your energy into process allows for the possibility of achievement even if your overall efforts are flawed. You master new habits more easily because you reinforce the skills you need to succeed whether you reach the desired result each and every try.

Think "If/Then"

Resolutions that are too vague are doomed to failure, Dean says. But so are ones that are hyper-specific. Strike the happy medium by turning to resolutions into "if/then" statements.

Let's say your aim is to live a more active lifestyle. Starting off with the idea you'd like to walk the stairs more often, craft your goal like this: If I come to an elevator, then I will take the stairs or get off one floor early and take the stairs from there.

Such a statement links the actions you wish to take (walking stairs) with a common situation (coming to an elevator), increasing the likelihood that you'll follow through because it allows you to hook your habit onto a chain of events in your day that's already taking place. Just don't tie your goals to a definite time of day. Dean says this is a no-no because it promotes clock watching and if you get off schedule for some reason, you lose the opportunity to practice your new habit.

Also, building an "or" into the "then" part of the equation gives you more choices to complete your goal.

Replace don't erase

When most people decide to address a bad habit such as smoking or binge eating, they usually try to squelch it. You're better off trying to replace the bad habit with a better one.

"It's like trying not to think about a white bear," he said. "If you try not to think about the bear, then it's all you can think about."