These are unusual times. Without fail, many Americans are beginning to make New Year's resolutions, but according to a recent Fidelity Investments survey, the nature of the resolutions is changing a little. Whereas usually about 35% of American adults resolve to improve their finances, a full 43% plan to do so this coming year. A whopping 71% are vowing to become more confident in their resolve to control their own finances, which may explain why Fidelity has seen a 25% increase in attendance at its seminars.

Unfortunately, most such resolutions are not fulfilled. But yours can be achieved; and I've got some tricks to help you succeed.

Here are some things to know, to understand the big picture:

  • The most popular resolutions include saving more, getting out of debt, losing weight, exercising more, and spending more time with family.
  • According to a FranklinCovey survey, the vast majority of resolution makers will have lost their resolve by year's end, while a full third won't even last a month.
  • Despite that, financial resolutions are somehow stronger. While 51% of Fidelity respondents reported sticking with their overall resolutions, 60% stuck with their financial ones. Perhaps more of us really appreciate how important it is to get our finances in shape.

Tips and tricks
As behavioral economics has taught us, our minds can play tricks on us. But we can play tricks on our minds, too. Here are a bunch of strategies you might employ, to help you succeed in your goals:

  • Be specific. Don't just say you want to "save more." Instead, say that you'll beef up your 401(k) contribution to 12% of your salary, or that you'll sock $800 per month into strong dividend-paying stocks. Don't say that you want to "work on your debt." Instead, say that you will pay off all your credit card debt this year.
  • Don't over-resolve. You don't want to lose track of all the things you're vowing to do. It might even be best to have just one critical resolution you stick to, and stick to it.
  • Break some resolutions into parts. If you want to quit smoking, for example, you might decide to cut down from two packs a day to one pack immediately, and then in two months, halve that, halving it again two months later, before quitting entirely.
  • Don't let failure derail you. Understand that you might slip or stumble. Work that possibility into your plan and be prepared to let yourself get back on track instead of just giving up.
  • Build in some rewards. Perhaps, once you've saved and invested $5,000 in your best stock ideas, you'll let yourself buy that new TV you've been craving.
  • If you need help, ask for it.

Be accountable
Here's one of the most powerful tips I've run across: Be accountable to yourself and others. You might sign an agreement with a good friend, stipulating that she will check on your progress monthly, and if you fall behind or fail, you'll have to write her (or a charity) a big check. You might tell everyone at your workplace about your resolution, inviting them to check on your progress.

Don't frighten yourself into inactivity
Some people start out with good intentions, but then get paralyzed, thinking a particular goal is just too hard to reach. Don't think that with investing. Putting yourself in a much-improved financial position can be as simple as investing in a broad-market index fund, or investing your IRA money in some powerful stocks, or letting some trusted resources point you to very promising investments.

Or take a little time to learn more about investing, and perhaps seek out some great stocks for yourself. To find some prospects for further study, you might screen for them on Motley Fool CAPS.

For example, below are some companies I found by screening for highly rated mid-cap companies with revenue growth rates of 8% or more and price-to-earnings ratios of 20 or less. I chose those metrics because mid caps have more room for faster growth than large caps, and because growing revenues are a clear sign of strength. And a relatively low P/E ratio suggests that a company may be undervalued -- though of course average P/Es can vary widely by industry.

Company

CAPS Stars
(out of 5)

3-Year Average
Revenue Growth

P/E Ratio

Buckle (NYSE:BKE)

****

18%

11

ITT (NYSE:ITT)

*****

14%

15

NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG)

*****

13%

7

McDermott International (NYSE:MDR)

*****

19%

18

Jacobs Engineering (NYSE:JEC)

*****

17%

12

Foster Wheeler (NASDAQ:FWLT)

*****

21%

10

Flowserve (NYSE:FLS)

*****

14%

13

Data: Motley Fool CAPS.

And finally, remember that you don't have to go it alone when you're tending to your finances. Hang out at The Motley Fool online and you'll find lots of support for whatever financial resolutions you set for yourself.

What are your financial resolutions for 2010? Let us know in the comment box below.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. ITT is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool owns shares of Flowserve. Try any of our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.