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Live Happier: Keys to Making and Keeping New Year's Resolutions

Lose weight? Better health? Planning to make life-changing goal as new year's resolution? Read expert tips to help you draft, keep your resolutions.

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

Are you planning to lose weight? Get in better health? Tackle managing your finances? Find a new job or career? Make more time for your family or friends? Obtain a better education? Quit smoking or drinking? Take a long-delayed trip? Volunteer your time to help others? Reduce your stress? Start a new relationship? Or perhaps some other life-changing goal? (Wondering what other people are resolving? Check out the Top 10 New Year Resolutions.)

It is very easy to make new year's resolutions -- or resolutions at any time of year -- but most of us find it much harder to keep them beyond a few weeks or months. It's possible that it's not so much your will power or desire to change as it is the resolutions themselves. Many people make overly ambitious resolutions that are almost doomed to failure from the start.

So, what are the keys to making and keeping resolutions? Follow these eleven tips to help draft and keep your resolutions.

1. Agree to develop a plan. The resolutions that have the best chance of success are those that are carefully developed through a series of steps, much like the ones outlined in this article. While spontaneity is a wonderful attribute in certain situations, studies show that impulsive resolutions are the least likely to be kept/achieved.

2. Make a list of all your goals. This next step is the easiest one. Brainstorm all the changes you want to make -- all that you want to accomplish. You may only end up with a few goals, but if you are facing a key crossroads in your life, you may have a handful of goals about your future. Be specific here. Don't say your goal is to lose weight; say your goal is to lose 50 pounds.

3. Prioritize your goals. You may feel you need to make a lot of changes to your life, but if you have too many goals, it is easy to lose focus and motivation when the hurdles simply seem insurmountable. Instead, once you make a list of some of the key changes you want to make, rank them both in sequential and priority order. (For example, if you want to take a trip, but need the money to do so, your first goal should be saving money, with the trip goal lower on your list.) Remember to keep your goals realistic, grounded in the reality of your situation -- and focus on one goal at a time.

4. Break larger goals into manageable tasks. A large goal can seem overwhelming and impossible to ever achieve, but the secret is to attack that goal and break it into smaller tasks that eventually add up to achieving your goal. For example, if your goal is to lose 50 pounds, you could instead make a plan to lose 1-2 pounds per week.

5. Think of multiple ways to achieve your tasks (and ultimately your goal). One of the most important things you can do to achieve your goal is to think of new or different ways of accomplishing it -- especially if it is a goal that you have tried and failed to accomplish in the past. For example, if you have tried several fad diets in the past to lose weight and none of them worked (or helped you keep off the weight once you lost it), then perhaps it's time to look beyond diets to some other strategy. As Apple Computer used to say, think different.

6. Make changes in your lifestyle. Once you've determined your goal and how you are going to achieve it, make deliberate changes in your surroundings to support your efforts. If you are trying to lose weight, give away or throw out all the "bad" food you have in your home. Your efforts here are not to simply get rid of bad habits that have put you in this situation, but actually to reprogram yourself -- replacing old (and bad) behaviors with new behaviors.

7. Request and accept support. When possible, enlist the emotional support of your family and friends to give you the additional willpower and determination to stick to your plan and achieve your goal. If necessary, seek out a support group (local or online) to help shore up your resolve and determination for success.

8. Document -- and celebrate -- your successes. With each small step you take to achieving your goal, reward yourself with some small emotional reward. By recording your progress, you are creating tangible proof that you can succeed and that you are making concrete progress toward your goal. Use that document as motivation whenever you are struggling with keeping your plans or doubting your progress.

9. Prepare yourself for setbacks. Whether you're trying to save money, lose weight, or find a new job, you will periods in which circumstances arise that cause you to lose a little ground toward achieving your goal. If you're mentally prepared for such a scenario to happen, you're more easily able to accept the setback and move forward -- rather than the more typical response of using the setback as an excuse to give up on your goal.

10. Forgive yourself if you lapse. Mistakes and slip-ups are going to occasionally happen. Rather than beating yourself up for taking a step backward, take a moment to analyze why the slip-up happened and what you can do in the future to prevent it from happening again, and then move on with your life. Don't punish yourself for being human. Forgive and forget -- and keep your focus on achieving your goal.

11. Don't give up. You may hit one or more points when your short-term plans are not working and your goal still seems so far away. Fight the urge to give up -- and instead persist. If the one technique you have been using is no longer working for you, go back and develop a new strategy -- with new techniques. The harder you work at it, the more likely you'll achieve it.

Final Thoughts on Making -- and Keeping -- Resolutions

Only you can make the changes you want to make. Don't create resolutions to please others -- because you won't keep them in the end, and you'll be miserable and resentful until you do break them. On the other hand, once you make a resolution to change something about yourself for yourself, accept the responsibility and demands that such a change will take -- if you truly want to succeed -- and use the eleven tips in this article to help you achieve your goals.

Finally, remember that you can make changes to your life at any point in time. While the new year is certainly a traditional starting point, don't wait for an arbitrary date to make the changes you need to improve your life.

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Avid wellness guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., is an avid bicyclist, adventurist, environmentalist, and student of wellness and photography, with a mission of empowering others to lead great lives. He is Founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites. Dr. Hansen is also the founder and caretaker of this site, EmpoweringRetreat.com, as well as founder of EmpoweringAdvice.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com or reach him by email at CEO(at)empoweringsites.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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