Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? As a followup question, do you actually remember what your resolution was last year? While following through on or even just making a New Year’s resolution isn’t by any means necessary, it is a nice little practice to try to harness the momentum of the calendar turning over and to use that power to shape ourselves into healthier and happier people. If you don’t pay attention to that resolution, however, then it is easy just to pat yourself on the back for having good intentions without really having ever put the work in. For this reason, today we are going to think about some ways of making sure we stick to whatever diet, exercise regime, budget, foreign language course, job search, or music lessons you decide to pick up this January.

First off, keep your goals reasonable yet be optimistic or driven enough to really try to make a change. There are many goals such as quitting smoking, working toward running a 5K, or committing to volunteer work that really come down (almost) entirely to your own personal choices and how you spend your time. Other goals such as becoming a millionaire from cryptocurrency or falling in love with a movie star are technically possible but they require an incredible amount of circumstantial providence and therefore make for poor goals even if they are pretty dreams.

As a personal approach, I tend to take on three resolutions but I consider the difficulty of each. My reasoning here is not just that more resolutions is better per se but the perspective of honestly assessing that some tasks should be easy whereas others might be difficult helps give us a point of reference for our goals. In my approach, one resolution you make should be fairly easy to accomplish or even just something “fun” rather than serious‒for instance, one year I simply wanted to watch more movies and that wasn’t hard to achieve but it did get me to explore titles and directors that I wasn’t familiar with. Maybe you want to explore new restaurants but have been stuck in a rut, perhaps you haven’t picked up a novel in a while or you wish you kept in better contact with old friends‒the point is to pick something fun and easy but that you know will make you happier in the long run. The second resolution should be an accomplishment that you know is both reachable but will also take plenty of effort. Losing weight would be a prime, if boring, example here as nearly everyone knows they could take more control over their diet if they really put the focus and willpower to it. The easy resolution helps give us a boost of confidence but this second resolution is what we are really going to measure our success or failure by. Finally, your third resolution should be something that is still possible but you know it might be a little too large or something that might have to wait for the future. Here, think of something like trying to save up for a big purchase or a vacation or getting a promotion; one year my big dream was to get paid to play music in public which hadn’t happened since my early twenties. That year I actually did make that big resolution happen, but the nice thing about making your third resolution a “possibly out of reach but I can work toward it” dream is that it makes your middle resolution seem that much more within your control.

Beyond the task of selecting a reasonable yet ambitious resolution is the long job of actually sticking to it. Here some of the most important things to keep in mind are 1) keeping the goal present in your mind and 2) finding ways of tracking your progress. For visibility, let your family and friends know what you are working on both so they support you and so that you know if you go back on your word then it won’t just be something you can move on from and forget about without a few questions coming up later. Consider also making visible reminders that you can’t ignore such as a “One soda a day” sign on the fridge, or a list of habits you will follow next to your bed. There are tons of apps out there that help track how many times you fulfill a certain task or which will actually send you notifications if you haven’t logged any activity in a while (the Duolingo owl is always on my case). As a warning, be aware of the tendency some people have to express their commitment to a new habit more with their wallet than their actual actions. For instance, if your first step towards becoming a runner is to buy a new wardrobe of workout clothing then I wouldn’t say you are doing anything wrong but remember that actually getting your legs pumping is far more important than how you look.