Many people make a New Year’s resolution to shake off the previous year’s struggles and start fresh with a clean, blank slate. As confident and well-intentioned as they feel about making positive changes and reaching some goals, 80% of people don’t stick to their New Year’s plan.

This might seem discouraging, but don’t despair. Instead, follow these tips to make a New Year’s resolution that you can finally stick to and achieve.

Take a Deep Breath, Relax, and Pick One Measurable Goal

Setting a new goal is fantastic. However, switching up your routine or following a new path can be very stressful. According to the University of Michigan Health System, “deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body.” So, the first thing you need to do is just take a deep breath and relax.

Next, choose only one measurable goal or New Year’s resolution. Making too many changes at once can be overwhelming, and chances are you won’t succeed if you juggle too many new commitments at once. For the best chance at hitting the mark, avoid making ambiguous goals—always make them specific and measurable instead.

For example, if you want to lose weight and start saving more money, only focus on one of these challenges for now. Then, set a specific, realistic target like:

  • “I’m going to walk 10 minutes a day twice a week.”
  • “I’m going to save $500 by transferring $20 a week from my paycheck into a savings account.”
  • “I’m going to lose 20 pounds in six months.”

These resolutions set reasonable, measurable goals—which makes them more achievable as opposed to plotting an unrealistic course to an unattainable end.

Once you’ve succeeded with one goal, then commit to reaching the next one.

Pace Yourself—Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight

The current, fast-paced technological world thrives on instant gratification. You send text messages and receive replies in seconds. You download and instantly listen to a new album instead of going to the store, grabbing a CD off the shelf, walking it to the car, and loading it up.

Unfortunately, constantly feeding this craving for on-demand results can sabotage an effort to stick with a New Year’s resolution. Most goals take time to achieve.

For instance, some diets claim you can shed 20 pounds in a month. This isn’t realistic. According to Livestrong, “Depending on your weight, gender, and activity level, a 20-pound weight loss could take between 10-20 weeks, or even longer.”

The same goes for breaking old habits; change doesn’t happen overnight. A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it can take 18-254 days to change habits.

The bottom line: Pace yourself. If you aim for instant results in whatever goal you make, you’re going to set yourself up for disappointment if you fall short. What’s worse? You may even abandon your plan altogether if you don’t see an immediate transformation.

Set Mini-Goals and Celebrate Each Win

Many writers have a love/hate relationship with the blank page. When inspiration strikes, they fill pages long into the night. During a bout of writer’s block, it might be hard to string seven words together to form a single sentence.

If your dream or resolution is to finally write the next great American novel, chances are you’re not going to write 20 chapters and 400 pages in a week. Realistically, you might be able to write five pages a day. If you push yourself to write too much, too fast, you might feel overwhelmed and frustrated when you don’t succeed.

This rule applies to many different resolutions. If you make and achieve mini-goals (like writing five pages a day or exercising 15 minutes twice a week), you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, boosting your confidence in your ability to reach the finish line.

After reaching these mini-goals for a while, consider increasing your commitment. For example, write two more pages a day, for seven total. Or work out three days a week instead of two. Plus, celebrating a series of small “wins” will help nudge you along until you reach your desired result.

Photo: JohnnyGreig via gettyimages.com

Track Your Progress

This step coincides with setting and achieving mini-goals. There’s something satisfying about keeping a record of your progress. In fact, American Psychological Association studies found that “prompting participants to monitor their progress toward a goal increased the likelihood that the participants would achieve that goal. Furthermore, the more frequent the monitoring, the greater the chance of success.”

Whether you keep a log of workout times, record weekly weight loss, or keep a budget journal, tracking your progress—either with pen and paper or punching pertinent information into an Excel spreadsheet or fitness app—ensures you see your accomplishments add up over time. Also, always remember that your journey is a marathon and not a sprint.

Expect Plateaus and Even Some Lows

It’s easy to compare the quest to reaching your goal to playing a game of Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders. You happily advance your token along the board with the finish line in clear sight. However, you’ll inevitably hit some chutes or go back a few spaces that hinder your journey along the way. In life, any number of challenges or difficulties can impede your progress—and you could simply have a rough day or week.

Hitting a weight loss plateau or dipping into your savings for an unexpected car repair might set you back for a bit on your resolution path, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to “fail.” 

Seek Support and Encouragement

Finally, telling others about your New Year’s Resolution keeps you accountable and can help you stick to your plan. If you’re feeling down or discouraged, seek support and welcome encouragement from family and friends. Letting others cheer you on will boost your confidence and help you keep your eyes on the prize until you enjoy success.