Just under half of Americans make new year's resolutions each year, according to a poll by Marist. Unfortunately, sticking to your resolutions can be difficult, especially as life seems to get busier and more complex every year. Furthermore, resolutions like eating healthy and exercising are important, but they're also some of the hardest to commit to, as they require something from you every day.
The good news? You can take steps to make your resolutions more attainable. Here are three resolutions many people have made for 2015, along with some ideas on how you can achieve them.
1. Save more money
Much like diet and exercise, cutting your spending and saving what's left takes discipline. So instead of summoning the willpower to cut spending and save more on a daily basis, make your saving automatic so you don't have to think about it.
Here are two ways to make saving a lot easier and less stressful:
- Set up automatic transfers from your checking account to savings, or have part of your pay direct-deposited to savings.
- Increase your automatic contribution to your retirement plan at work. If you don't participate, start contributing immediately.
The resolutions that are most likely to fail are the ones that require frequent action on our part. By automating your saving, you remove the biggest barriers to success: thought and effort. Not only will your savings rapidly accelerate, but you'll have less disposable income to spend, as the money will get moved to savings or a retirement account before you have a chance to spend it. You'll be surprised at how quickly you'll adjust your spending habits as a result.
Afraid you'll dip into the savings to splurge? Make it harder to get to. Open a savings account at an online bank, don't install the bank app on your smartphone, and cut up the ATM card. Make it harder to access the money, and you'll be less likely to raid your savings.
Bonus tip: If you increase your 401(k) contributions at work, your savings will go even further: You'll cut your income tax bill, as contributions are made pre-tax, and if your employer matches your contributions (as most do), you'll end up with a much bigger retirement account.
2. Be a better provider
Resolving to be a better spouse or parent is admirable, but it's pointless without specific guidelines. Instead of trying to be better, try to change or eliminate the things in your life that make you worse. Considering that financial concerns are one of the biggest sources of stress for most people, removing or reducing stress tied to finances is a good place to start.
If you're the primary earner in your household and you don't have a substantial nest egg, then having life insurance to provide lost income in the case of your death is a good idea. Only half of Americans have life insurance, and those who do are only covered for about three years' worth of income on average.
Furthermore, Accuquote's Byron Udell points out that 70% of people will need long-term care at some point in their lives, and the cost of that care will only increase over time. Acting today to prepare for an inevitable cost burden with a long-term care policy will not only protect your nest egg down the road, but it will also provide peace of mind for those you care about.
Making sure your family's financial future is protected can help ease your worries about the future, and that can go a long way toward improving your outlook and helping you be the kind of person you aspire to be.
3. Improve your health
Have you ever gone to a gym in January and then seen the same gym in February? It's amazing how quickly the crowd thins out -- and it's sad how quickly we give up on trying to live healthier lives. Fear of being unhealthy might get you going, but it probably won't help you stick to long-term goals.
For many, fear of failure can actually have the opposite effect, keeping you out of the gym entirely.
Incentives and things that we enjoy, on the other hand, tend to motivate us much better. In other words, if you don't like going to the gym, find a healthy activity you enjoy and reward yourself for reaching short-term activity goals.
With this in mind, many companies now offer benefits programs that give employees incentives to be more active, like programs to reduce insurance premiums for workers who reach certain activity levels. Qualifying activities can include things like participation in a local sports league and physical activities like hiking and walking. If your employer offers a benefit like this, find things you enjoy that will also earn you some activity credit, and start building healthy habits around physical activities you enjoy. Not only will you get healthier, but you'll save a little money, too.
You should also set short-term goals and reward yourself for reaching them. Instead of simply resolving to lose weight, plan to complete a minimum amount of activity. For example, walking six miles every week for the first three months of the year could mean you get to buy a new toy you've been wanting. Crank it up to 10 miles per week for the next few months, and you can reward yourself with something even better.
When it comes to being healthier, the more things we have to motivate us, the more likely we are to try. Setting specific, achievable goals with tangible rewards, be they monetary or otherwise, can help us keep going. Before you know it, you'll turn that trip to the gym or that early-morning walk into a habit.
Focus on the process, not the goals
One of the biggest reasons people fail at resolutions is that they fail to go beyond setting a goal. The Motley Fool's Morgan Housel said it best last April: "What you want is a system that allows you to be happy and successful, rather than goals that guide your system." He was writing about investing, but it applies to every aspect of our lives.
Don't get too caught up in trying to reach the goals -- you'll probably end up discouraged. Instead, think about the things you can control -- or better yet, make those changes automatic -- you'll be much more likely to do the things you resolved to do. Most importantly, you'll make healthy and happy changes that can last a lifetime.