Get excited, because the New Year is almost here! It’s time to live your best life now! New Year, new you!

Aaand some of you just cringed. It’s understandable—you’ve seen to many failed resolutions. “It’s just another day,” you’ll say. Some of you, however, are still hoping, still dreaming, (still clinging, maybe) to the belief that this year will be different.

(And for some of you, you actually know how to make New Year’s resolutions that lead to lasting change. Good for you. You’re ahead of the curve. So we’re just going to ignore you.)

For both groups of people, you New Year cynics and New Year dreamers, here’s some advice. Don’t expect too much from the New Year, but don’t give up altogether on it either. There’s no magic when the clock strikes 12. You’re not going to fix ALL your problems in 2019. But there is a natural reset that seems to come with the New Year. Think of it as a helpful tool—an opportunity to reflect on the past year and plan ahead for the coming year. At the very least, a lot of us need that set-in-stone date to start a new habit—otherwise, we’ll just keep putting it off.

Look at it this way: 2019 is probably not going to be the year everything falls into place. But it could be the year you decide to make at least one big change in your life—one change that you know, if you stick with it, you’ll be glad you made a year from now. Are you really going to pass up that opportunity? If not, you’re going to want to do this right.

Pause to Reflect

Since you’re reading this, you probably feel like your life needs a change. It’s one thing to say you want 2019 to be better, but if you really want anything to change, you need to figure out how you want it to be better, what needs to be better. In other words, why do you need to make a change? To help figure that out, schedule some time where you can reflect on the past year. Be honest about 2018—the good parts and the bad; the regrets; the victories; the unfinished battles; the bittersweet memories. If you’re the journaling sort, get out your journal from the past year, and your current journal—it can really help to have this stuff written down. If you don’t journal, at least grab a sheet of paper or open a word document on your computer.

So, what parts of 2018 do you want to improve on? Which of these can you actually improve on, and which parts are outside of your control? What are some things you didn’t make time for but wish you had? And don’t just focus on trashing 2018. Sure, it wasn’t a great year for some of us, but that doesn’t mean it was all bad. So which parts were good? What are some of the highlights that are worth remembering? Who are some of the people who brightened your year? What are some of the habits you made that are worth repeating? It’s smart to build on where you’re already at.

Put it into words

Now that you’ve reflected on the past year, hopefully you have an idea of why you feel you need to make a change and which area of your life you need that change most. So, what do you want to change? Put it into words—type it up or write it down. The best goals are specific and measurable. If your goal is vague, you’ve already lost half the battle. Here’s an example of what I mean:

“Get healthy” is a terrible goal. What does that even mean? You can’t “get” healthy like you get eggs or milk—you’re not going to go to the grocery store, find “healthy” in the frozen section, and toss it in your grocery cart. And what does “healthy” look like? Balanced meals? Stronger muscles? Going completely organic, vegan, ketogenic?

“Eat healthier” and/or “exercise more” are better goals—they’re a little clearer, a little better defined. They’re still not great on their own, because January 1st may strike, and you’ll realize you don’t know what exactly you meant by either of those. And if you don’t have a clear idea of what your goal is, you’re not going to achieve it. That’s why you need to figure out how you’re going to achieve those goals. But for this step, just define, as clearly as possible, what your goal is.

Break it down

Once you’ve figured out what your goal is, you can start figuring out how you’re going to achieve it.

Spend a few minutes writing down how you imagine you’d reach your goal—everything that you want your goal to look like. If you want to exercise more, what kind of exercises do you want to do: running, weight lifting, cycling, swimming, circuit training? Will you be joining a gym, or will you be exercising at home? If you want to eat healthier, what unhealthy things do you want to cut out (sugars, empty carbs, processed foods)? What healthy foods do you want to add to your diet? Do you have any health conditions to consider? Is there a specific diet you want to try out?

Obviously, not all of you have health-related goals (though I’m sure some of you do); these are just examples of what breaking down your goal might look like.

Once you have a list of how you might achieve your goal, ask yourself two things: what items on this list are realistic, and what items on this list will make the biggest difference in achieving your goal? Both categories are important, but if some items fall into both categories, that could be a great place to start.

Schedule it in

Seriously. Look at the steps you plan to take to achieve your goal, and put them in your schedule. Figure out the when/where, and commit to it. Put them in the calendar on your phone/computer and add a reminder if need be. Write it on a physical calendar or planner if you have one.

Then (here’s the hard part), when that day/time arrives, actually do it. After all this planning and build-up, you should have no excuse.

Bonus points: Phone a friend

If you’re really serious about making lasting change, you’re going to want some kind of accountability partner. Probably the best kind of accountability partner is someone with similar goals who you can take these steps with. However, even having a trusted friend who’ll check in regularly about how your goals are going is helpful.

Now that you’ve figured out the why, what, how, when, where, and maybe who of your New Year’s Resolution, you should be ready to act when the new year arrives. For more tips on living your best life this year, check out our new January series. You can find service times and locations on our website and watch past services here!