Illustration: Clayton Junior

Every year it seems we resolve to eat better, exercise more, lose ten pounds, stop stressing and start meditating. But while our intentions are good, our follow-through is often lacking. Research has found that after just six months, more than 50 percent of us have given up the goals we set in January. Not this time! We're rewriting the rules on how to make resolutions so you can set yourself up for success—all year long.

Rule 1: You Must Stay True to You

Before you make a single change this year, Gretchen Rubin, author of the forthcoming book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, wants you to take one crucial step.

I'm a sucker for "before" and "after" photo shoots. The thought of a transformation—any kind of transformation—thrills me. So it should come as no surprise that at the beginning of a new year, right there with the rest of the world, I vow to make some changes. They range from the important (walk more) to the whimsical (wear perfume). With some of my goals, I've succeeded; with others, I've failed altogether. For the longest time, I couldn't pinpoint the reason for my erratic results. Did I need to be more focused? Was I just being lazy?

Turns out, I wasn't asking the right questions. As I discovered after spending several years researching a book on how we make and break habits, the problem isn't that we lack willpower or grit. The problem is this: We can't change until we know ourselves. That may sound obvious, but it's a step many of us skip as we make plans and set goals. We forget to think about us: what we like to do, what comes easily, what we can control. And so we fail because we try to change a habit in a way that doesn't suit us. Yet if we stop to identify key aspects of our nature, we can tailor a resolution to our particular idiosyncrasies and increase the likelihood we'll stick with our new plans.

I'll give you an example: A friend wanted to cook more. But even though she enjoyed spending time in the kitchen whipping up dishes, she couldn't get herself to do it. I asked her one simple question: "Have you ever successfully kept up this habit?" She had. When she'd lived with a roommate who loved to grocery shop, she cooked often. Revelation! It wasn't the cooking she minded; it was the shopping. Now she pays a little extra to have food delivered and finds that she has the time and energy to make meals at home.

But what if you're trying to make a change that doesn't come naturally? Say you're a person who wants to exercise, but you haven't found your way to the gym in decades. We've all heard the arguments in favor of exercising as soon as you wake up: Mornings are predictable; you can do it and be done; you'll enjoy the mood and energy boost all day. But while that might hold true for people who wake up with energy, the world is full of night owls who barely wake up in time for work. My owl sister runs on a treadmill at 10 P.M. after she puts her 4-year-old to bed. If she tried to get up at 6 A.M. to run, she'd fail every time.

The point is to figure out what works for you. Some people do better when they start small; others, when they start big. Some people need to be held accountable; some defy accountability. Some thrive when they give themselves an occasional break; others, when they never break the chain. (When I finally admitted that it was impossible for me to eat just one square of chocolate or one scoop of ice cream, I found that I actually found it easier to abstain from some sweets.)

As you read the expert advice over the next few pages and make your plan, ask yourself: Are parts of it likely to cause you physical discomfort, emotional uneasiness, irritation, or boredom? How can you make it appealing so it's easier to keep up? Can you avoid the things that will throw you off course? Many strategies work. You just have to discover the ones that are right for you. And remember, this isn't a race. There is no finish line. Find satisfaction in the doing, and you'll reap the greatest reward—a good habit that lasts forever.
— Gretchen Rubin

Illustration: Clayton Junior

Rule 2: There's Nothing Magical About January 1
Day 1 of the new year may seem the perfect time for a fresh start, but let's face it: After a season of indulgence, going cold turkey on anything is iffy at best. "It's hard to avoid temptation in January," says Oklahoma State University social psychologist Melissa Burkley, PhD. "There's usually too much food and alcohol left over from the holidays." Burkley's more realistic three-month plan can help you succeed:

January: The Warm-Up

Too often, people fail to build in a prep period when they set goals. It's hard to, say, begin a successful diet if you haven't removed foods that may trigger you to overeat. Spending a week or two ramping up for a new behavior will signal to your brain, Hey, it's time to make a change! You should also use this time to write down your resolutions.

February: The Starting Line

Now that you're prepared, get going! But instead of launching a new habit on a Monday, opt for the first Wednesday of the month. Mondays are inherently prone to long to-do lists and curveballs. By Wednesday, you'll be more settled in. Another bonus: Starting midweek may lead to greater success because three days is always easier than five.

March and Beyond: Check-In

Don't forget to regularly review the goals you've set. Pick the same day each month to assess how things are going—are you getting closer to your goal? Have you plateaued? Are you moving backward? Keep in mind that most people will have many lapses on the way to lasting change, so be prepared to adjust as you go.
— Arianna Davis

Illustration: Clayton Junior

Rule 3: It's Not Your Butt—It's Your Brain
To develop a successful get-fit plan, you must override your brain's impulses.

Think about how you've set weight loss goals in the past. Did you vow to hit the gym more, run a marathon, or start a weekly walking group with your friends, only to flake on your plans after a few weeks? "Many fitness and weight loss resolutions are intentions like balloons released into the air—they fade out of sight very quickly," says Walter Mischel, PhD, a professor of psychology at Columbia University and author of The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. To see your way to success, Mischel says you first have to understand how the brain works.

The brain's "hot" part is the limbic system, which is reflexive, primitive, and immediate (useful in caveman days or to dodge a bullet), but it's also the "Gimme! Gimme!" part—the one that has you hitting the snooze button when you're supposed to get ready for the gym or agreeing to happy hour when you're scheduled for Zumba. To keep us from acting on all our desires, the brain is balanced with a rational and reflective "cool" system, located primarily in the prefrontal cortex, which developed later in the evolutionary process. When temptation strikes, the hot system activates and can lead to poor impulse control, says Mischel. But you can tap into your cool side to outsmart your knee-jerk response by coming up with if-then scenarios.

If you've heard and tried this approach before with little success, it's probably because your statements weren't specific enough. If you regularly skip the gym, tell yourself, "If I get off work at 6 p.m., I will put on my workout clothes and run one mile." Or, "If I'm going up only four flights, I'll take the stairs." Unlike a vague plan, which can easily be overruled by your hot system, a specific strategy can quickly bring your cool rational system into play—making you more likely to do the right thing. Several studies have shown that among groups with the same goals, participants who form if-then plans end up being more successful.
— Sarah Z. Wexler

In Data We Trust

We pulled stats from a sample of the 75 million users of MyFitnessPal, one of the most popular weight-loss tools worldwide, to find out which strategies are most successful.

30+ People who have lost 30-plus pounds are twice as likely to plan their meals and snacks ahead of time than those who have lost 5 pounds or less.

3x That's how much more weight people lose when they share their food diary with friends (compared with those who keep their eating habits private).

6+ 33 percent of people who have lost more than 40 pounds exercise at least six times per week.

Illustration: Clayton Junior

Rule 4: Your Slipups Are Only Detours
You will give in to temptation—but that doesn't mean you should ditch your goal entirely. "Resilience doesn't come from willpower," says Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It comes from thinking positively, which you can train yourself to do." We asked Fredrickson to break down the anatomy of a slipup—and to coach us through getting back on track.

1. Moments before slipup Something happens to send you into a tailspin—you fight with your spouse, you receive a snippy email from a friend. You're ready to indulge in exactly the thing you've sworn off, like impulse shopping or junk food. "If these behaviors are associated with reward, your brain is wired to want the feel-good hit it's received in the past."

2. During slipup Enjoy! Whether you're embarking on a little retail therapy or drowning your emotions in cheesecake, don't beat yourself up. "Slow down and appreciate it. Focus on the good feelings, not on the sense that you're failing."

3. A few minutes after slipup How you talk to yourself in this moment often means the difference between moving on from your mistake and making it ten times worse. "Don't let yourself get sucked into screw-it syndrome—the idea that once you overindulge, you've ruined the day, so anything goes. Instead, say to yourself, "Yes, I got off track, but I don't need to make it worse." It's easier to dig out from a 300-calorie or $30 mistake than a 3,000-calorie or $300 one."

4. One day later Keep up the positive self-talk, and you'll be less likely to fall into the same trap again. "Self-compassion means not calling it a slipup but a detour. Say, 'Even if I'm meeting my goals only two-thirds of every day or week, that's two-thirds more than before.' Look at what you've done and frame it as an on-the-whole success."

5. Two weeks later So you've "detoured" not just once but several times? Totally normal. "Accept failure as part of the learning process, but notice how you're failing. Focus on how long it takes you to rally after a mistake. If, for instance, your goal is to stop shopping and you slipped and splurged at the mall, see how quickly you can short-circuit feeling bad and move on. You'll know you're making progress if your recovery time continues to shrink."
— Sarah Z. Wexler

Illustration: Clayton Junior

Rule 5: Bad Habits? They're Actually Solutions
When you understand how your vices help you, you'll have a better shot at kicking them to the curb.

Admit it: You drink at least two cans of Diet Coke a day. Or like 28 percent of Americans, you hit the drive-through once a week. Or like roughly 16 percent of women, you still smoke. You know you shouldn't, but the real reason you can't stop yourself may be because you haven't admitted that these "bad" habits are actually solutions instead of problems, says executive coach Deborah Grayson Riegel, author of Oy Vey! Isn't a Strategy: 25 Solutions for Personal and Professional Success. Don't think your habit could possibly be doing you any favors? Grayson Riegel begs to differ: Diet Coke provides energy when you're tired; fast food saves time when you're too overscheduled to plan, prepare, and cook a meal; cigarettes give you a feeling of belonging to a community, a me-time break from work or a sense of rebelliousness. Once you've identified the problem your vice is solving, give yourself some credit: There's no question that you have the power to troubleshoot your own problems. Then ask yourself, "What would I be capable of if I used my conscious mind to develop a new, healthier strategy?" "You'll be far more successful if you can replace the original action with something that gets you the same reward," says Alexandra Jamieson, holistic health counselor and author of Women, Food, and Desire: Embrace Your Cravings, Make Peace with Food, Reclaim Your Body. "Try transforming a habit by substituting something else enjoyable: If ice cream is your go-to comfort food, try taking a bath with a few drops of grapefruit essential oil, which is still sensory," says Jamieson. "If you'd normally swing by the drive-through after a bad day at work, try stopping at a stationery store if that's your thing and buy a cute card. You still have the problem of wanting to feel comforted, but now you have solutions in place that aren't bad for you, making them guilt-free and far more sustainable."
— Sarah Z. Wexler

More: [LINK HERE] 3 Myths That Keep You From Reaching Your Goals

Illustration: Clayton Junior

Rule 6: You Can Make Your Cravings Work for You
There's no shortage of experts who can tell you all the ways to eat healthier (stock up on kale! drink green juice! pack your lunch every day!). sure, the advice works in theory, but what happens when life intervenes? We make over one reader's diet—and give her a meal plan she can stick to in the real world.

Discover 5 Ways to Make Your Cravings Work for You.

Your 15-minute plan: That's all the time you'll need to prep healthy breakfasts, lunches or snacks for a week.
— Lindsay Funston

Illustration: Clayton Junior

Rule 7: Resolutions Can Be Small and Fun!
Yes, this can be the year you finally give up sweets or master the headstand in yoga or get a new job. But why can't it also be the year you read more books, laugh daily and daydream freely? These habits belong on everyone's list.

Daydream More

When your mind wanders, you might want to follow it. Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that daydreamers tend to have better working memories—and a separate study found that people whose thoughts drifted when they took a work break were more inventive when they returned to a creative project (listing possible uses for objects like a brick) than those who tried to stay focused during their break time.

Watch Crazy Car (or Cute Baby) Videos

Science continues to show how beneficial laughter can be. You already know it can defuse anger and anxiety, but a study last spring also discovered it could reduce short-term memory loss in older adults. (When we're stressed, we release more cortisol, which, over time, may impair memory. Laughter, on the other hand, can decrease levels of the hormone.)

Join a Book Club

In 2013, 23 percent of American adults didn't read a single book. That's too bad, as science shows that getting lost in a page- turner can do your body good. Marketing research by Mindlab International found that reading could lower stress levels up to 68 percent—and was shown to be a more calming activity than listening to music.

Just Say Hello

Last February, O launched our "Just Say Hello" campaign after learning that an estimated one in five Americans suffers from loneliness. Research has shown that people with stronger ties to friends, family, and coworkers have a 50 percent greater chance of outliving those with fewer relationships. Vow to reach out, whether it's to an old friend or a stranger you regularly pass on your way to work. It could be the easiest thing you do for your health all day.
— Arianna Davis

Illustration: Clayton Junior

Rule 8: Tech Is Your Friend
Consider these apps your 24-hour support system.

Join the Anti-Gym

There's no time to exercise. The gym's too far. Workout classes are too expensive. Push pause on those excuses and download Nike+ Training Club, a free app that offers 15-, 30-, and 45-minute full- body workouts—with instructional videos for every move—that you can do in your living room (some require dumbbells). And their four-week exercise programs offer an experience closer to personal training. Choose the month-long plan that most matches your fitness level and goals.

Get Centered

Meditation is powerful stuff—it may help quell stress, lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia—but trying to quiet your mind during a harried day can be a tall order. Headspace, an app co-created and narrated by an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk, will help get you started with ten free easy-to-follow tutorials that require only ten minutes of your time. At the end of the trial, you can sign up for a monthly ($13) or yearlong ($96) subscription to more sessions.

Butt Out

If a stick of nicotine gum isn't quite enough for you, find support on MyQuit Coach, a free app developed by that has been reviewed by medical professionals, including smoking cessation and tobacco addiction specialists. The program allows you to connect with other smokers trying to stop, track cravings and devise a quitting plan with short- and long-term goals.

Count Calories

Research shows that many people underestimate how much they eat (one report found that adults lowball what they've consumed at fast food restaurants by roughly 175 calories). And while it's easy to get stats from a nutrition label, can you accurately gauge the calories in a bowl of chips or a square of lasagna? Leave the number crunching to Countertop, a free app that pairs with a food scale ($150) to calculate the calories on your plate.
— Sarah Meyer

Illustration: Clayton Junior

Rule 9: You Still Have to Write Down Your Resolutions!
People who commit their goals to paper are more likely to follow through, according to a Dominican University of California study. So pick up your pen and start plotting your best year yet.

Planning Period: _______________ (use this time to gear up for your resolutions)

Starting Date: _______________ (no turning back now!)


I will set a monthly get-fit plan. In February, I commit to walk one mile at least three days per week.

If I have a busy day and can't squeeze in a mile, then I'll do five extra laps around the office.

If I'm too tired to work out, then I'll call my gym buddy to motivate me.

GOAL 1: _________________________________

I will _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.

Anticipate your weak spots.

GOAL 2: _________________________________

I will _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.

Is there an app that can help with this goal?

GOAL 3: _________________________________

I will _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.

Is this a bad habit you're trying to break? Don't forget to ask yourself what problem this habit was supposed to solve.

GOAL 4: _________________________________

I will _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.

Did you remember to include something fun or silly?

GOAL 5: _________________________________

I will _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.
If _______________, then _______________.


Once you've written down your goals, snap a pic of this page and post it to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #omagreboot. The Dominican University of California study also found that people who wrote down their intentions and shared them with a friend accomplished more than those who wrote them down but did not share. Now you're accountable not only to yourself, but also to your followers. Good luck!

Click here for a printout.