TIME psychology

Failed Your New Year’s Resolutions Already? Try These Less Ambitious Ones

16 microresolutions to help you accomplish everything you set out to in 2014

If you’re like 90% of people who resolve to change at the New Year, by the end of January you have probably already bailed on your resolution, or will in the next few weeks.

We blame personal weakness for these annual failures, yet research shows that willpower is not a function of character but a limited mental resource that is easily exhausted. Classic New Year’s resolutions—to be slim by summer, to be organized, to be on time—are closer to wishes than action plans, and so demanding that they rapidly deplete willpower stores and hasten failure.

If your “wannabe” resolution was a bust, there’s still plenty of time to achieve significant change in 2014. The microresolutions below provide instant benefits and are sustainable. These strategic behavioral shifts require focus to succeed, so make them just two at a time and practice them for at least four weeks before attempting new ones.

Fitness
New research shows that small is powerful when it comes to fitness. If your vow to blast yourself out of couch-potato-hood by visiting the gym daily didn’t pan out, try one of these microresolutions:

  • Stand for all or part of your commute if you travel to work by train or bus to increase core strength, up your metabolism, and improve balance.
  • Get up and walk around 2-3 times an hour if you sit for much of the day. According to the latest research, such limited activity mitigates the lethal effects of sitting better than an hour at the gym.
  • Walk to work all or part of the way one day a week. Set the day and stick to it—if it’s Monday, it’s walk day.
  • Go to the gym once a week and exercise for 15 minutes. The key is to establish an absolute routine; lowering the bar will help you get there.

Diet
According to new weight loss models, for every 10 pounds you want to lose, you’ll need to cut 100 calories from your daily diet. Here are some microresolutions that trim calories without overstressing willpower:

  • Eliminate one slice of bread from breakfast, lunch, or dinner. At nearly 100 calories per slice, that’s 10 pounds right there.
  • Stop eating after 8:30 at night. Research shows that calories consumed late at night result in weight gain more often than calories consumed during natural waking hours (extra bonus: more sleep, because we eat late to stay awake).
  • A resolution to be hungry for meals will lead you to better manage the size and timing of snacks and ultimately reform eating patterns by associating food consumption with hunger.
  • Eat only from your plate to eliminate hundreds of calories from eating while preparing food and clearing up leftovers with little loss of satisfaction.
  • Always leave something tasty on your plate.
  • Dine leisurely and savor your food and drink. You’ll slow down, enjoy what you eat more, and be satisfied with less.

Organization/Neatness

  • Cull mail before bringing it into the house.
  • Make the bed before leaving the house in the morning.
  • Review your priority list as soon as you sit down at your desk and before you check email.
  • Hang up your coat immediately upon arriving home. Once that habit is firmly established, your other clothes will find their way into closets over time with little mental effort.

Sleep
Sleep is the self-improver’s secret weapon, restoring willpower resources, balancing hormones, increasing physical powers, and upping productivity. A shift in routine that results in more sleep could be the most powerful behavioral change you make this year.

  • Give up leisure computing after 10 p.m. Those quick email checks often turn into two-hour surfing sessions, and the bright light from the screen disrupts circadian rhythms.
  • Get ready for bed mid-evening so that you can slip between the sheets as soon as you feel dozy without having to slog through a lengthy bedtime routine.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that such microresolutions are too limited to make a difference. We live in the age of the small and powerful, where micro computer chips, tablets, iPods, smart phones, and their apps drive productivity at work and at home. Microfinancing is eliminating poverty one family at a time. Nanotechnology is revolutionizing medicine. Critical communications arrive in 140 character tweets, hitting global distribution lists in microseconds. A small, sustained behavior change is powerful and significant. Working two at a time in four-week increments, you can make 20 of them in 2014.

Adapted from Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Yourself Permanently by Caroline Arnold. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Caroline L. Arnold. Arnold is a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @CarolineLArnold, and on SmallMoveBigChange.com.

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