As the new year approaches, many people begin scrambling to list all the things they’re going to do to make 2015 their best year ever. Despite the high hopes and good intentions, however, most people fail to turn their New Year’s resolutions into reality.
The statistics on the chances you’ll maintain change are fairly dismal. Most studies show resolutions begin to drop off after a week and only about 40% of those who made resolutions actually stick to their goals. If you’ve encountered difficulties following through with your goals, resolve to make 2015 different.
No matter what your goals are, here are the keys to making those New Year’s resolutions stick:
1. Identify Your Readiness to Change
Sometimes, the pressure to establish a New Year’s resolution makes people choose a goal before they’re ready to commit. Although they may feel motivated initially, they haven’t really thought about all the work their resolution entails. Thinking, “I guess I should get healthier next year,” without committing to eating healthy and exercising isn’t likely to bode well.
Creating change is a process (see my previous article – Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight: It Happens In These Five Stages). Choosing to overhaul your behavior based on the date of the calendar, without really being ready, will only set you up for failure.
There’s no reason you need to take action on January 1. Rather than saying, “I’m going to quit smoking cold turkey at midnight,” a more reasonable solution might be, “I’m going to spend the month of January researching my options to quit.” This can increase your motivation to quit, while also giving you time to create a plan that you’ll be prepared to follow through with.
2. Believe You Can Do It
A lot of people try to create change, despite a nagging voice in their heads that says, “This will never work.” If your thoughts constantly drag you down and beat you up, your chances of success are greatly diminished. You’ll likely talk yourself out of taking action as soon as the going gets rough. Creating long-lasting change requires confidence.
If you struggle with self-doubt, write down all the evidence that suggests you’ll be able to reach your goal. Read that list daily to affirm your strengths and reduce your negative thinking. Learn to recognize and replace your irrational thoughts with more productive and helpful monologues. (For more tips on how to change your negative thinking, see my previous article Taming Your Inner Critic: 7 Steps to Silencing the Negativity).
3. Think Constructively About Setbacks
Almost every behavioral change involves at least one or two setbacks. Whether it’s picking up a cigarette or skipping a few workouts at the gym, most people backslide occasionally. The way you respond to those setbacks, however, is what determines the likelihood of reaching your goals.
If you convince yourself you’re a complete failure after you make a mistake, you’ll likely kiss your New Year’s Resolution goodbye. Sometimes, people mistakenly assume success is all or nothing – “If I mess up once, I must be a failure.” If, however, you anticipate setbacks, and only view them as temporary, you’ll increase the chances that you’ll successfully learn from your mistakes.
4. Build Mental Strength
For many people, New Year’s resolutions focus on tangible changes – like losing weight, paying off debt, or quitting smoking. Although tangible – and measurable – goals are important, it’s impossible to reach those goals without mental strength.
No matter what your goals are, building mental strength will help you reach them. Just like physical strength requires ongoing exercise, so does mental strength. Commit to building your mental muscle by conducting daily exercises that will help you get stronger. Increasing your mental strength will help you follow through with your goals, even as your motivation declines – which, for many people, is mid-January.
Rather than spend all your time thinking about what your resolution will be, focus on the strategies that will help you stay on track. Decide to make 2015 about creating a new you, complete with a plan that will help you stick to your goals throughout the year.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.