Hack Your New Year's Resolutions

Don’t feel bad if your plans for the new year usually fizzle out before February—most resolutions are designed to fail. Here’s how to set goals you can stick with through 2022—and beyond.

Remember last January when you vowed to learn to cook? You were gung ho for a few weeks, and your family was super-supportive about your weird-looking cookies. But you lost motivation, and soon you were back to instant ramen.

If this scenario sounds similar to your experiences with making resolutions, don’t feel bad. Studies show that a whopping 80 percent of people quit their New Year’s resolutions by February of each year.

In fact, according to psychologists, most resolutions are practically guaranteed to fail. That’s because they’re either too vague, too ambitious, or impossible to measure.

The good news is, with a few hacks, even the wildest dreams can be transformed into goals you can achieve.

The key, experts say, is making your goals S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Whether you want to learn French or you want to nail the latest TikTok dance, a smart goal can help you turn your dreams into realities. Read on to find out how.

Resolution: "I Want to Be Healthier"

Why It’s Designed to Fail: Wanting to take good care of your body is a totally admirable goal—and totally hard to keep. The problem is, the word healthier is super vague. “A goal that is too broad can be frustrating. It can feel like you aren’t making progress if you don’t specify what you’re working towards,” says Beverly Bachel, author of the book What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens.

How to Hack It: Make it specific. Start by defining what healthy means to you, then pick one or two specific behaviors that will make you feel like you’re achieving your goal. Instead of telling yourself “I’m going to drink more water,” say, “I’m going to drink two bottles of water a day.” Instead of making the resolution “I’m going to get more sleep,” say, “I’m going to be in bed by 10:30 every night.” If you break a goal into small, specific steps, it’ll feel less daunting, you’ll be able to feel good about your progress, and you’ll have an easier time sticking with your resolution.

Resolution: "I Want to Stop Biting My Fingernails"

Why It’s Designed to Fail: Biting your nails is so gross—but can be so hard not to do. It’s easy to know when you’re failing at this goal—your nails are bitten down to the nubs—but it’s harder to measure your success. And when it comes to breaking a bad habit—like biting your nails—it’s easy to give up on the whole thing if you slip up just one time.

How to Hack It: Make it measurable. Try setting up a tracking system for yourself. Each day that you don’t bite your nails, give yourself a smiley face emoji on your phone or a star on a paper calendar. You might feel like a little kid, but research shows that reward charts work for everyone, even adults, Bachel says. The important thing is not to give up on your larger goal if you backslide and bite your fingernails one day. Aim for 5 days in a row without biting, then 10, then 15. Reward yourself each time you reach a milestone with a treat like a hot chocolate—so much tastier than your fingernails!

Resolution: "I Want to Stop Fighting With My Sister"

Why It’s Designed to Fail: You love your sister, but you’d have to be some sort of mythical peace unicorn if you were able to instantly go from bickering to BFFs. If you don’t already have a harmonious relationship, the goal of stopping the fighting altogether is probably too ambitious.

How to Hack It: Make it achievable. Focus on what you can control and what changes you’re willing to make to reach your goal. Then talk to your sister: She probably doesn’t love the constant bickering either. Together, identify areas of conflict, like who gets the bathroom first in the morning. Then brainstorm strategies for coping, like setting a time limit on bathroom use for both of you. You might not eliminate conflict altogether, but your mornings will be a lot more peaceful. This tactic can work for goals to reduce conflict in any relationship, such as with parents or friends.

Resolution: "I Want to Get Better at the Flute"

Why It’s Designed to Fail: A cool thing about practicing something is you automatically get better. The problem is, you can practice the flute for the rest of your life, become a professional flautist in an orchestra, and still want to get “better.”

How to Hack It: Make it time-bound. Instead of thinking “I will get better at the flute,” try saying “I will practice my flute for 15 minutes four times a week.” That’s not a crazy commitment, but if you stick with it, you’ll definitely see results. Supercharge your goal by enlisting a practice buddy—maybe you have a friend from band who wants to improve at the drums. Find an arrangement of your favorite song for your instruments, then practice until you can perform it together as a duet. Don’t forget to reward yourselves after your performance (and maybe record your concert and post it on TikTok?).

Resolution: "I Want to Stop Spending Time on My Phone"

Why It’s Designed to Fail: Tech companies spend gazillions of dollars making sure your phone stays glued to your hand, so you’re up against tough odds. Plus, you actually need it for stuff, like doing homework, texting friends, and telling your parents where you are.

How to Hack It: Make it realistic. Instead of vowing to communicate via psychic signals from now on, get real about where you can cut back. Start by making a list of the helpful ways that you use your phone, like FaceTiming friends and doing research for school. Then make a list of phone time you don’t need: Is there an app that makes you feel bad about yourself? A game that sucks up too much time? Get rid of them. Finally, set realistic goals for using your phone intentionally, with a daily limit. Ask a parent to help by taking your phone when your time is up.

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