How to Ensure Positive Changes Turn into Lifelong Habits

It’s been one month since the beginning of this year – a time when the warm and fuzzy feelings of the holidays fade, when pressures of the new year start to set in, and when New Year’s resolutions slowly taper off. There’s not much that can be done about the end of the holiday high or the pressures of the new year. But what about all those positive changes that you wanted to make? That, you definitely have control over.

Think about the goals you’ve had in mind. Two of the most common New Year’s resolutions are to get in shape (get healthier) and to pay off debt. Strangely enough, these goals can have very similar life spans. With each one, people frequently start off strong, hit a bump, and then lose focus. Oftentimes that means you not only don’t achieve your goal, but you end up worse off than you were before. So how can you ensure that this doesn’t happen to you in 2012?

Take the long view

We live in an instant gratification society. So much is available at our fingertips 24/7 that it can be difficult to remember that true goals can take a long time to achieve. Let’s say you want to get fit, so you go to the gym for a month and start seeing results. Then the next month you hit a plateau and feel like you’re not making any progress. Inevitably you start to feel discouraged and may stop going to the gym altogether. The same pattern holds true for paying off debt. Maybe the first month of the year you stick to a new budget and it gives you a total high. But then an unexpected expense comes along and it sets you back. You may find it hard to get back on track once this happens. The reason is that if we don’t see our goals come to fruition immediately it undermines our momentum and so, too often, we give up.

Real change takes time. You probably aren’t going to achieve your goals as soon as you’d like to. So make small changes that you can achieve very day. Little by little you will realize that you are getting closer to your goals. I’ve found these words from J.G. Holland helpful when it comes to maintaining motivation: “There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast withers as rapidly; and that which grows slowly endures.” Or, in other words, the tortoise beats the hare.

Know your reasons

It’s very important to always grow through life, and setting goals for yourself is the best way to do so. But if you really want to create change in your life – whether it be getting into new habits or getting rid of old ones – then it would serve you better to also understand your motivation. Again, let’s say you want to get in shape. Why? Is it because you want your pants to look better or is it because you’re concerned about your overall health? There’s not necessarily a right or wrong motivation. But knowing the answer will simply help you achieve your goal more efficiently. Why do you want to pay off debt. Likely everyone has a similar answer to this one – to relieve the black cloud hanging over your head. But what about the next goal? Do you want to then grow a bigger savings, buy a house or apartment, or start a retirement plan? Maybe you even want to travel more. Knowing the reasons behind your desires will help you stay motivated to achieve your goal. Keep your eye on the prize!

Forgive yourself

Here’s the thing about wanting to create change in your life. At some point you will fail. But that isn’t what matters. What matters is what do you do afterwards. The best of intentions aside, life sometimes just gets in the way. You have a choice: (1) dwell on the setback and convince yourself that things will never get better, or (2) pick yourself up and move forward. Remember that you’re human and no one expects you to be perfect. If you’ve been hitting the gym all month and decide to indulge in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, you could choose to feel guilty about it or you could simply enjoy it. Staying positive and letting yourself enjoy life are important tools in sticking with any type of resolution. If you’re trying pay off your debt but then your car brakes down, should you get discouraged? No way! Sure, you might be frustrated, and yes, it’ll be harder now to stay on budget, but you’ll help yourself by accepting that these things happen and getting back on track the next month. A bump in the road only leads to long-term failure if you let it mess up your focus.

Change is difficult and requires daily effort. When you make a new year’s resolution and expect everything to get better overnight, a crash and burn is inevitable. However, if you focus on positive ways to improve your overall lifestyle, you are much more likely to accomplish everything you set out to do. Best of luck!

This article is part of our Budgeting Tips Resource Center.  If you’re looking for additional information about budgeting tips, be sure to pay a visit!

Image by Ed Yourdon

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  • Great post. I think that one of the key points you hit on is taking small steps towards your goals and New Year’s Resolutions in order to help keep you on track and from giving up.

    • Ignacio Thayer

      Thank you! Absolutely agree. People under estimate the power of baby steps, but you can’t run a marathon in one leap. It’s always one foot infront of the other.

    • Shannon_ReadyForZero

      Very true. Small steps building up to the big goals are much more attainable and will lead you to your goal faster than focusing on the bigger steps.