Courtesy Emily Cappiello
Like millions of people around the world, I used to spend every December making a New Year’s resolution or two. While most years it was to lose weight (the most popular resolution Americans make), sometimes it was being smarter with my money or committing to spending a bit more time with my siblings. However, by February, like clockwork, exactly nothing would be accomplished.
When I was younger, this didn’t bother me all that much. But, as a results-driven person who thrives on deadlines, I began to really get down on myself when I was in my 20s. I was never quite sure why I couldn’t stick to the plan. And then I realized that trying to keep a huge, daunting New Year’s resolution was akin to writing a novel or climbing a mountain—it just wasn’t feasible. (If you need resolution pointers, find out the 17 New Year’s resolutions smart people make every year.)
My mom used to tell me that it takes only 30 days to make or break a habit. So, instead of focusing on one large thing and giving up when I wasn’t hitting the mark, I decided to make a list of little things I wanted to work on during the year. So far this has included things like keeping my house a little bit tidier, spending more time with my dog and, yes, even dropping a few pounds. My plan, though, has not been to try to accomplish all of these things at once, like a marathon makeover, but to focus on taking teeny steps every day.
And guess what? Usually within a month or two, I’m now making progress toward those goals without feeling overly pressured or disappointed that I haven’t done more. Simple upgrades like wiping down my bathroom sink every day after putting on my makeup have become second nature to me. While losing weight, I focus on shedding just a pound at a time—not the 20 or 30 I ultimately envisioned.
I don’t even consider these New Year’s resolutions, and that helps to make my small goals feel more attainable—there’s no pressure to start them exactly after the ball drops and see them accomplished by the first day of spring. They’re just little goals I’ve set to be happier and healthier over time. I also sweeten the pot with rewards along the way. For example, I promised myself a new pair of sneakers when I made my running mileage three weeks out of the month for a few months. And then there’s the free time I naturally gain in keeping up with the bathroom sink every day, which takes less time than a deep clean on a Sunday.
If keeping your New Year’s resolution is harder than you thought, the key to success might be banning the concept of resolutions completely. Instead, break your goals down into small milestones you can easily reach on a daily or weekly basis—and enjoy the triumphant feeling of meeting each and every mini goal. Now go drink an extra glass of water, drop a modest 50 cents into a piggy bank, pet your dog for one minute—then pat yourself on the back for living more healthfully. No mountain-climbing required. Next, see which 19 resolutions experts say never to make.