Yesterday a GRS reader named “P” pointed me to a New York Times article from Alex Williams, who writes that change isn’t easy. Williams notes that about 80% of those who make resolutions on New Year’s Day fall off the wagon by the middle of February.

The article isn’t as depressing as that opening might lead you to believe. It offers glimpses of why people fail to keep resolutions — and offers tips for how they can succeed.

How to make your resolutions stick
One of Williams’ interview subjects realizes that she’ll always want to engage in bad habits, but that in order to change, she needs to want the good habits more.

I agree.

I will always want to buy comic books, for example, but the key is to realize that other things are more important. I want the freedom to spend my time as I please. I don’t want to work at a job I hate just because I need to earn money for the latest comics. (Or videogames. Or books. Or clothes.) My time and my freedom are more important than having the latest issue of X-Men. By looking at things this way, I’m able to see that I control my money — money doesn’t control me.

Note: Of course, this isn’t an either-or proposition. It’s not all-or-nothing. I can still buy some comics. It’s only when I spend uncontrollably on the little things I want that I sacrifice the ability to choose the big things. As always, the key is balance.

Williams interviewed several experts for the article. One suggested four strategies “more likely to bring positive results” when trying to change:

  1. Think big. “Start with big changes, not small ones” in order to generate more immediate results.
  2. Fake it ’til you make it. Think and act like the person you want to be. This is a powerful technique. I’ve used it myself to deal with a lot of my fears.
  3. Reframe the situation. Think of it in a different way. For example, don’t say that you’re giving up shopping — say that you’re getting a divorce from debt. Then you “can look back at [your] old life as a romantic adventure, rather than a sinkhole of regret”.
  4. Get help. Don’t go it alone. If you want to make change, then find others who can support you, such as your family or friends — or the other readers at Get Rich Slowly.

The ultimate conclusion of the article, though, is to just do it. Another expert put it this way: “The only thing that convinces the brain that it is okay to change is to see it change.”

My goals for 2009
That being said, I’m still not making resolutions this year. I’m setting goals. This is my strategy for coping with the problem of change. When I set a goal, I don’t feel like I’m trying to convince myself to become somebody new. I’m just trying to achieve something that the current J.D. wants.

And I’m not going overboard, either. In his new book, The Power of Less, Leo Babauta writes: “Taking on many goals at once spreads out your available energy and motivation, so that you often run out of steam.” This is the reason that I’m limiting myself to three primary goals again in 2009:

  1. To save $5,000 for a new car. “About time,” many of you are saying. For nearly two years you’ve listened to me whine about my Ford Focus while pining for a Mini Cooper. Now that my consumer debt is gone and I’ve saved $10,000 for emergencies, I’ll take some time to save for the car. (I’d set this goal higher, but I want to be sure my other financial priorities are met too.)
  2. To ride in Cycle Oregon. This goal actually encompasses many sub-goals such as: lose 20 pounds, research and purchase an indoor bike trainer, get a professional bike fitting, etc. (Oh — and ride the damn bike!)
  3. To make better use of my time.

I know that third goal sounds nebulous. It’s not. I have a concrete plan inspired by The Power of Less and by a recent conversation with a friend. I’m dividing my time into Focus Days, Free Days, and Buffer Days. On each day, I’m pursuing Most Important Tasks. I’m making a few other little tweaks, too. Basically, I’m trying to design a time-management system that works the way I do.

I also plan to pursue several secondary objectives. I intend to:

  • Teach myself about investing and about small-business accounting.
  • Fully fund my retirement accounts.
  • Finish my book proposal and sell my book.
  • Optimize our insurance coverage.
  • Repair the exterior of our home (siding, paint, gutters).

Believe it or not, some of those secondary goals seem more daunting than my primary goals! But the primary goals are the ones I feel most passionate about. They’re the ones that will keep me motivated.

Now it’s your turn. What are your goals (or resolutions) for 2009? What strategies will you use to make your resolutions stick?

Photo by Woodley Wonderworks.

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