I’m not trying to be unkind. Nor am I suggesting there’s something uniquely bad about resolutions, intentions, or whatever people call them. The simple reality is that nearly everyone makes some sort of promise to themselves but fails to stick to them.

The concept behind resolutions of all kinds is a good one. We want to improve ourselves. We want to become better people. We want to eliminate our bad habits.

The problem is in how we create and approach those promises. We start by choosing what might be difficult to achieve, and then we fail to pick realistic, achievable options. For example, we promise ourselves that we’ll lose 25 pounds by Spring Break, even though we’ve never managed to lose more than 5 pounds in a year. We tell ourselves we’ll exercise for an hour every day, and never take a moment to determine whether we can really manage to carve out an extra hour from our busy schedules. We say this is the year we’ll meet the love of our life, but must assume he’ll magically drop by some evening, because we don’t make any effort to find him.

If you want to make a promise that has a chance of succeeding, we recommend three steps. First, make it realistic. It has to be something you can actually accomplish within the time frame you’ve established. You don’t want changes to be so easy that you don’t have to give them a second thought, but you don’t want them to be so difficult you give up in frustration in no time. Second, your intention must include regular, intentional steps toward your goal. Want to lose 25 pounds this year? Set a goal of losing just 2 pounds each month and do it by pursuing specific steps such as cutting out bread or alcohol. Now, instead of a vague goal, you have a practical strategy.

The third element needed is accountability to ensure you’re moving toward your goal. Consider asking a friend to serve as your accountability partner, to ask you hard questions and check in regularly. We tend to think of accountability as some kind of mean-spirited enforcement, but it’s actually a way to measure and celebrate progress. Even at Care to Change several of us have partnered up to ensure we’re staying focused on our health this year!

There are two other things you can do to increase the likelihood you’ll stay with your intention. Something we don’t often do is pause to celebrate when we take steps toward the place we want to be. If you’re wondering what has kept you stuck and maybe even already ended your new years resolve, maybe it’s time to talk with a professional. We help all sorts of people move from being stuck. Want an intention that you can keep? A resolution you can achieve? Want to make a promise that will stick? Set a time to talk and let us help you start on the path to success. We’re here to help. Contact us today.

Jennifer Strege specializes in marriage and family counseling, with a particular focus on issues associated with blended families.