We are in the season of New Year’s Resolutions. It’s the time of year when we think about changes we want to make in our lives. It’s an exciting, hopeful, and optimistic time.

But here’s the hard reality: Most New Year’s Resolutions fail. Most people don’t even last until the end of the month.

There are a lot of things you can do to increase your chances of making lasting change in 2015. But today I want to share one tip I think is very important. Most people don’t get this right, and it usually trips them up. Here’s the tip: When beginning to work on your New Year’s Resolution, Start Small.

Often when people try to make changes in their lives, they try to make several changes all at once. Or they try to make a massive change right away. For example, if you want to improve your health this year, you might buy a gym membership and commit to exercise one hour every day. If you need to work toward getting a better job, you might send out 50 job applications in a rush of adrenaline. If you are anxious and want to feel less stressed, you might sign up for a week-long meditation retreat.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those actions. The problem is the bar for change is set unrealistically high. The pace started on January 1 is difficult or impossible to maintain. And when you have a setback, you may feel like a failure and quit working toward your goal.

One strategy to avoid this problem is to Start Small. Here are 4 tips:

  1. Start with something you know you can do. Let’s say eventually you want to exercise 30 minutes per day. But right now 30 minutes seems really difficult. Don’t start with 30 minutes. Start with something you know you can do. Maybe you know you can do 5 minutes per day. Start with 5 minutes.
  2. Be consistent with the small thing before increasing. Do the small thing every day for 30 days. Don’t worry about increasing just yet. Instead, focus on being consistent with the small change. After a month, the small thing will become a habit and you can think about increasing the change if you want.
  3. Celebrate the small change. It’s really difficult to change anything in life. If you are able to consistently do something different, even for five minutes; that is a huge success.
  4. After a month, decide whether you want to make another change. After one month of doing the small thing every day, you can reevaluate and decide whether you want to make another change. Maybe you want to increase your exercise to 10 minutes per day. Or you can decide to stick with what you are doing. It’s up to you.

I recently read the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris. The book is about meditation and its positive effects on the mind and body. I thought he made a good case, and I wanted to try meditating for myself. Dan suggests exactly what I said here: don’t make a huge change right away, but start with 5 minutes of meditation per day. I’ve been doing that, and it has worked well. 5 minutes of meditation seemed doable to me. I’ve been able to do it every day. I have felt good about my change. And in a month, I will reevaluate.

Discussion: What is one thing you would like to change in 2015? What is one small thing you could do as a first step toward your goal?


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