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Handcrafted, Life-Changing Resolutions

Alden Wicker

Don’t you wish someone could just make your resolutions—and keep them—for you? Well, we don’t sell handcrafted life-changers here at Zady, but we brought you the next best thing.

We talked to three experts on getting your life together—a career coach, a professional organizer and an expert on happiness—and asked them for suggestions on how to pick a resolution worthy of 2014, plus how to keep it going far past Valentine’s Day. You’re about to have your Best Year Ever.

How to Craft a Resolution

The big reason why you haven’t been able to keep your resolutions before is that they were probably too vague. “Break things down,” says Caitlin Schoenfeld, Professional Organizer at Impeccable Order in New York City. One resolution she doesn’t love is the famous one to “lose weight.” “That is such a difficult, vague concept,” she says. “Get it out of the emotional place and into a formula.”

Some examples of more effective resolutions are:

-Instead of “Lose weight,” try “This month, I am going to lose three pounds.”

-Instead of “Write a book,” try “I’m going to write x number of pages a day.”

-Instead of “Eat healthier,” try “I’m going to bring my lunch to work every day.”

Notice how all of these things are measurable in a way you can observe, record and chart over time. And you can apply this to almost any goal, even the squishy ones. “If you say you want to appreciate the moment, how would that manifest itself in everyday life?” says Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestseller The Happiness Project and the popular blog of the same name. “Be concrete.”

Now get even more detailed. “Break it down to literally the nth degree,” Schoenfeld says, “so you have something very concrete and digestible to do each day. Figure out when you’re most likely to do something in a day… know ‘If I wake up too late, I just won’t get things done.’ Some people know that if they don’t exercise in the morning, they won’t do it later in the day. When are you inspired or excited to do something?”

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Manifest your resolutions. Take a blank page from your journal and jot them down.

More Resolution Ideas

Still feeling a little lost? We snagged some more suggested resolutions for you:

20 Minutes a Day

Michael Melcher, an Executive Coach with the firm Next Step Partners, suggests what he calls his 20 Minutes a Day Rule to start. “You should spend 20 minutes a day working on your career, not in your career. Have a time each day doing something that’s not related to just getting your job done, but related to your overall career interests.”

Reach Out to People Each Week

Another resolution Melcher suggests has to do with deepening your relationships and broadening your network by deliberately seeking out people you’ve fallen out of contact with or don’t know. “There’s a lot of research that shows that what are called your weak ties are more helpful to your career than your strong ties. Once a week, have lunch with someone. Or every morning, send three emails to people you haven’t talked to in a while.”

Rubin concurs, but for reasons of happiness, too. “Ancient philosophers and modern scientists tend to agree that it is so important.” She suggests something like starting a book club or having a monthly dinner with your sisters or college roommates.

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Could starting a book club make you happy? Rubin says yes. Photo by Ginnerobot, Flickr!

Create Your Career Experiment

Melcher also suggests career experiments to test out different paths. “It’s moving out of the realm of just thinking about it and into the realm of doing something that will take you somewhere.” If you want to do some kind of writing, you would take a course. Or if you wanted to start your own company, you would go to a start-up course, like classes at General Assembly or Media Bistro.”

Get Detailed About Your Day

“I can’t tell you how many people I come across who say, ‘I don’t have a calendar,’” Schoenfeld says, “and I ask, ‘How do you know your own name? How do you function?’ The calendar is the most important thing imaginable, whether it’s digital or written.” Her system for making sure you show up to your appointments on time and unfrazzled? Schedule your whole day down to the minute. For example, if you have an appointment at 10 a.m., write that down, of course. But also look up travel time and put your departure time down. Then put down what time you need to wake up in order to shower, get ready and have breakfast before you leave. “Once you have your whole day documented to the minute, if you have an errand to do, you know exactly when you can get it done,” Schoenfeld says.

Make Your Bed

“It sounds so trivial as to be silly,” Rubin says, “but people have reported to me over and over that what makes them so happy is making their bed in the morning. It’s so easy and manageable, it boosts your mood and it makes a big difference in how your room looks.”

Get Another Hour of Sleep

“People get so used to being sleep-deprived, they don’t even notice how it affects their day,” Rubin says. “It improves your mood, your memory, your immune function and your focus. And they think that sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain.”

How to Keep Your Resolutions

Picking the goal is the easy part. Now to actually follow through! Forget just using willpower. “Some people are really good at using their own will,” Schoenfeld says. “Most people aren’t.” There are better strategies to make your shiny new lifestyle a permanent habit.

First, Schoenfeld counsels, “Figure out why the hell you want this thing. Pinpoint the pain. What is it in your life that is really affected and damaged by this thing you want to change?” That will help keep you motivated through the first few months of the year. So if you’re trying to keep your closet organized, focus on the extra 20 minutes you spend every morning rummaging, for example. Or the fact that you keep wasting money on yet another black shirt because you lost the other five.

Then, keep track. (Which should be possible, because you picked a very specific, measurable resolution, right?) “Have some sort of accountability and monitoring,” Rubin says. (She should know; she famously monitors all her good habits.) “Maybe you keep a chart where you give yourself a gold star every day that you bring your lunch to work.” Sometimes, she says, even monitoring itself can improve the situation by making you more aware.

If monitoring yourself isn’t working, bring in reinforcements. “Utilize others, whether it’s hiring someone or calling a friend,” Schoenfeld says. “It’s about accountability. Your vanity and other people’s opinions are an incredible motivator.” For example, if you want to clean your apartment, plan a dinner party for next weekend, so you’re forced to do a good clean.

Be realistic about what works for you. “Embrace who you are,” Schoenfeld says. “Just sit with yourself and ask yourself, What has worked in the past? What has helped me function? So if you need a paper calendar, fine! If you love digital tools, use ’em. If you get your best work done at 2 a.m., then schedule your work time for 2 a.m.

And if you mess up? Melcher sees setbacks as an opportunity to reevaluate. “When you start a resolution, it’s a bit of a hypothesis,” he says. “And as you start working, you get more information. So, think about how you can keep working on that resolution, while making it more realistic for you.” Maybe it’s not specific or realistic enough. Maybe if you made it simpler, you could stick to it. Or maybe the resolution wasn’t right for you at all.

Then start all over again with our instructions for picking a good resolution. After all, who says improving your life must begin on January 1st? No one.