With the New Year upon us, you may be thinking about what resolutions you want to make, and how you can ensure you stick to them. For starters, nobody likes change. It’s painful. That’s why so few people succeed at weight loss, smoking cessation, or anything else that requires altering behavior.
You mean well, and you really do want to make your resolutions stick. But after a while, you give up—and no one cares or even notices that, once again, you’ve failed to stick to your resolutions. I’ve found the only way to guarantee success is this: Make the pain of not following through on your resolutions greater than the pain of changing. Here’s how to do that.
Stick to Your Resolutions with This Simple Technique
Let’s take smoking cessation as an example. Imagine you are a smoker, but now a burly guy is following you around with a baseball bat for three weeks. His instructions are to hit you hard in the back of the head if you take one puff of a cigarette. Are you going to light up and take the knock on the head? Not likely.
Since finding a burly guy with a baseball bat to follow you around to make sure you stick to your resolution(s) isn’t really feasible, you need a different way to inflict the pain of not living up to your promise to yourself. The one I recommend is a binding “commitment contract,” which works as follows:
- Decide on the specific behavior(s) you want to change. If you want to lose weight, don’t commit to losing X number of pounds. Pledge instead to eat more protein and fiber and to take a 30-minute walk four days a week for the next three weeks. Of course you’ll be aiming at a target weight, but if you focus on your behavior—what you eat and how much you exercise—weight loss will naturally follow.
- Come up with some disincentive that hits you where it really hurts. For most people, that’s the wallet. Pledge a significant sum of money to your least favorite charity, payable if you renege on your commitment.
- Write the details of your commitment down, sign it, date it, and have it witnessed.
- Make your contract public. Tell everybody—family, friends, and co-workers—about your commitment and its consequences, and keep them abreast of your progress.
This is the approach I’ve been using for decades, and I can tell you from personal experience—my own and my patients’—that it works. Vague hopes and promises won’t make you stick to your resolutions, but creating realistic, actionable goals and unpleasant consequences will.
Now it’s your turn: Do you have any other techniques that you’ve found to make your resolutions stick?