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Forty percent of Americans will make New Year’s resolutions. Ironically, the term has become synonymous with “things I failed to do.” But this need not be. I have become a resolution keeper based on the science of changing habits and creating new ones.

Before I consider what new growth I intend, I meditate on the motive behind the desired change. It seems to me when my goals are tied to virtue rather than vanity, I am far more likely to follow through. If I want to lose weight because I desire better health so I can spend higher quality time with my family, I’ll want it more. If it’s merely to enjoy my appearance more, I’ll soon decide that the cinnamon rolls look as good as the rolls around my middle.

Step one is to define to yourself what you desire to achieve or to change. It pays to write down with as much detail as you can what you want.

Then write down what needs to happen to achieve the result. At this phase, do the research so that you know what is doable and what is not. For instance, if your goal is related to health and you write that you want to lose 50 pounds this year, dissect the goal down to four pounds a month and then one pound a week. You know that you’ll reduce faster at first, so you might plan to weigh in each month with a predetermined goal.

But “losing weight” is not a wise goal. It’s far better to plan to eat five servings of vegetables each day, to sleep at least seven hours each night and to drink eight cups of plain water per day. These are superior plans because they are each something positive that you can do that will have the side effect of the scale tipping downward.

I have had great success pairing exercise with entertainment. If I’m watching a movie or a program or better yet, a series, while I exercise, I begin to look at my treadmill longingly. My eagerness for the entertainment translates to the associated exercise when I bundle the reward with the desired behavior.

Then I add a chart. There’s a little bit of the first-grader mentality in everyone, I think. I know that if I have a chart that I can mark off daily successes, the chart itself commands me to do my best.

If your plan deals with money, there are tons of formulas that lead to success. Identifying the behaviors that cause the problem in the first place will jumpstart success. If debt is the issue, total the debt and then make a chart. Minimize access to the credit cards or destroy them. Ask a competent friend, family member or professional to set up a budget and help you develop strategies for eliminating debt and building wealth.

Bundle a reward with your new, good behavior. Watch a movie, chat with a friend, walk in the sunshine or spend time on a hobby every time you opt for the money-saving or responsible-spending behavior.

Another behavioral trick that has helped me is to set a difficult goal: I plan to do my good behavior seven days a week. My chart includes space for stars on all seven days. However, I build into the plan the vicissitudes of living and allow myself a day or two each week when I can miss. I still claim success if I do the behavior five or six times a week, even though the goal is seven days. Cutting myself slack keeps my goal high and my sense of achievement motivating me to continue.

So, choose carefully, make a plan that includes positive, measurable behaviors, and keep a record. Reward yourself for success by pairing desired behaviors with simultaneous rewards and cut yourself a little slack each week for days that don’t go as planned.

Finally, plan to make new friends, strengthen family relationships, share your values and serve others. Including social ideals in your plan assures you success. If the world is a better place because of your efforts to do good and do well, you’ll have success no matter what,

We’re blessed to be Americans.