4 simple tips to help you keep your New Year's resolutions, from a psychologist


It's the time of year when people make their New Year's resolutions. Some 55% of New Year's resolutions are related to health, while 20% involve paying off debts, according to a 2016 series of studies from the University of Chicago.

Related resolutions to get rid of, or spend less on, vices in the new year are popular, too. Americans report spending, on average, over $2,400 a year on alcohol, lottery tickets, tobacco or e-cigarettes, and gambling, according to a recent study from Bankrate of 3,829 adults.

If you're making any sort of resolution this year, remember that small changes can make a big difference in your budget.

Here are four tips that Lisa Marie Bobby, relationship psychologist and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching in Boulder, Colorado, says can help you stick to your resolutions.

1. Understand why you break your resolutions

Though you may vow to make a fresh start in January, come February, 80% of people will have failed to stick to their resolutions, according to U.S. News.

The reason isn't necessarily a lack motivation or discipline, says Bobby. Rather, "the reality is that people have competing goals, and many of our goals are nonconscious."

New Year's resolutions are overt, aspirational goals, explains Bobby. Then there are subconscious goals that may cause you to act in ways that run counter to these aspirations. The tension between the two types of goals can create inner conflict.

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When you break your resolutions, "what people usually do is shame themselves, berate themselves, without really considering, 'Why am I doing it? Why does it make sense?' There are legitimate needs that are being met. Companionship, self-soothing, a reduction in anxiety, having a good time — especially for people who work hard, it makes sense to drop money on a fun night out," says Bobby.

Take some time to figure out what needs are being met through your subconscious goals, suggests Bobby. Almost "making friends" with some of these vices can help you develop "a more compassionate attitude" toward yourself, she adds.

Let's say your resolution is to pay off debt. Despite good intentions, you may still find yourself making impulse purchases online because they provide a hit of dopamine that gives you immediate pleasure. Or you may buy a round of drinks for a large group because it gives you a sense of belonging.

"If you're shaming yourself, you're pushing yourself away," says Bobby.

2. Develop 'a growth mindset'

People tend to have "an all-or-nothing mindset" about sticking to resolutions, says Bobby. It's "'I'm either good and virtuous, or I'm nothing.'"

Instead of focusing on perfection, be intentional about "cultivating a growth mindset," says Bobby. That means when you break your resolution, you tell yourself, "I'm working on this, I want to save more money, what did I learn, and what could I do differently next time?"

What people usually do is shame themselves, berate themselves, without really considering, 'Why am I doing it? Why does it make sense?' There are legitimate needs that are being met.
Lisa Marie Bobby
relationship psychologist

"That growth mindset really helps. It helps maintain a sense of hope for the future, but it also affords lots of opportunity to learn," says Bobby. "It's even more powerful when you provide that reflection with planning."

One way to shift your behavior is to "cultivate mindfulness" says Bobby. When you start to recognize the emotions that lead up to, say, putting an item in your online shopping cart without thinking about it, you can start to change your behavior. Ask yourself, "What does it feel like inside [my] body, riding the wave of that emotion?"

3. Find a support system

When you're trying to keep your resolutions, there's a lot of strength that comes from social support or having an accountability partner, says Bobby.

Vanessa, a 32-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, was inspired to pay off about $20,000 in debt in a year thanks to the supportive #debtfreecommunity on Instagram.

"I kind of use Instagram as my accountability partner," Vanessa told Grow earlier this year. "Sometimes I just get curious about what other people's opinions are, and I feel the people that do respond to my posts really care about me."

The opposite can be true if you're surrounded by people who don't share your same goals. If you're trying to stick to a specific diet, for example, Bobby suggests creating space in your refrigerator and putting your foods on a special shelf. It can be complicated when you're living with a partner or with roommates, so if you can't create alignment with the people around you, "find ways of setting boundaries," she adds.

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4. Develop 'micro skills'

One reason people don't keep their resolutions is because "there's a skills gap," says Bobby. "It's very easy to say, 'I would like to save more money,' but many micro skills are required to be able to achieve that [goal]."

When you start a new habit, it requires a great deal of intention, says Bobby. Start small and build.

"For example, for financial goals, every morning I'm going to wake up a little earlier than everyone else, and drink my coffee and update my budgeting app, because that helps me stay on track and feel more in control for the rest of the day, or spend 15 minutes looking at my [accounts] online," says Bobby.

Let's say you want to try going vegan. "The habit might be on Sundays from 10:00 to noon, I meal prep for the rest of the week," says Bobby. Keeping your resolutions is all about the "integration of meaningful habits" that will set you up for success.

"Those small daily habits, when they're integrated, become extremely powerful."

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