Forget Resolutions: 9 Ways to Change Your Habits for Good

This year, ditch the vague, overarching New Year’s resolutions and make changes that will stick through this year and beyond.

“Change isn’t for sissies,” says Colleen Collins Josellis, owner of Organized Chaos, who helps people all over the North Shore deal with what she calls problems of excess. “Initial change is sexy; keeping it up is not.” But it’s certainly possible.

With advice from Collins Josellis and life coach Susan Blue of Blue Life Coaching, here are nine practices that will help you to make lasting, meaningful change this year.

1. Set a positive, compelling goal

“The first step is having a vivid, specific goal that excites you,” Blue says. “You need to engage the heart, not just the head.” For example, if you want to slim down, don’t tell yourself to lose 10 pounds. Instead, set your sights on looking hot at your class reunion on June 14. It’s way more exciting to focus on that outcome than numbers on the scale.

2. Identify key behaviors

Blue advises working on one or two areas that have the biggest impact. For example, if you want to stop overeating, look to see what gets you into the most trouble. If you eat healthfully all day but lose it at bedtime, don’t bother tracking calories. Instead find ways to stay out of the kitchen at night.

3. Stay clear on WHY

You need to continually remind yourself of the change you desire and why it will improve your life, Collins Josellis says. It’s the first step in the formula she calls “Grace plus Grit.” “Grace means the mindfulness of being in the moment,” she says. “It’s taking 60 seconds once or twice a day and reminding yourself, ‘Today is going to be a good day and I’m going to work on this because my life will get better.’ ”  

4. Stick to it

Being mindful is essential, but the “grit” part of Collins Josellis’ equation is accepting that change is hard work.  “Grit takes determination and perseverance,” she says. “It’s not easy, but it can be life changing. Grace plus grit over time is what creates change.”

5. Schedule it 

Both experts agree that the most impactful way to add a new behavior is to schedule time for it. If you want to take control of your finances, put an hour on your calendar twice a week to review expenses and accounts. If you want to start exercising, commit to walking 30 minutes at the same time each day. The more often you schedule and perform a new task, the more it will become ingrained as a routine.

6. Swap it 

Bad habits usually deliver an emotional or physical payoff. Understanding the events that trigger the bad habit is important, Collins Josellis says. When you’re aware of the underlying need, you can substitute a healthier behavior that offers a similar benefit. If you’re having a second glass of wine to calm you down in the evenings, change your bedtime routine to include a soothing cup of hot tea or a bubble bath instead.

7. Start small

Consistent change over time adds up. “If you can focus on making a one-degree change in your life, it will exponentially change your direction,” Blue says. When you’re successful at making small changes—like drinking more water or climbing an extra set of stairs—not only will you see the benefits, but you’ll also build your confidence to make even bigger changes.

8. Seek support

Blue feels that getting support is essential to making meaningful change, and she sees this in her women’s work support groups. “The magic in groups is the accountability and support,” she says. If you don’t have a formal support group, at least make sure the people you confide in are positive. “Be careful who you tell things to. Make sure you have a supportive team,” Collins Josellis says—and that includes yourself.

9. Be kind to yourself

Changing your habits is not about perfection—it’s a continual process. There will always be slip-ups and temptations. The point is to change the behavior most of the time over time, Collins Josellis says, without being so self-critical. “Be gentle with yourself,” she urges, “so you can get back on track without shame. Extend that graciousness to yourself and change will occur.”