New Year’s resolutions are notoriously easy to make, but hard to follow. With that in mind, here are a few ideas worth trying this year:

  • Pay yourself first. This time-honored personal finance tip simply means setting aside a portion of every paycheck for your personal savings before you pay your bills or spend money on the pleasures of life. Make a habit in 2017 of depositing a consistent percent of your pay into a savings account and you’ll have started down the road toward financial independence.
  • Chart your financial course. Sit down with a 2017 calendar and mark each month with all the major expenses you can predict for the coming year, such as rent, mortgage, car payments, insurance premiums, tuition, and vacations. Think of it as your map through 2017, with the expenses as your major landmarks. Making a physical document to visualize your financial path is a good first step toward creating a solid budget for the year.
  • Become time-aware. The first step toward using your time better is to be aware of how you are using it now. Use a digital calendar to chart out your ideal week for the coming year, accounting for every minute, including the time used to sleep, eat, work and commute. Now spend a week tracking how you actually use your time in a notebook, and compare it to your digital calendar.
  • Carve out time to exercise. Speaking of time management, it’s worth carving out three to four exercise sessions every week. Moderate exercise will help make you healthier, feel more alert and sleep better. You may find the time you invest in exercise every week will add both extra years and quality to your life.
  • Plan to learn. Resolve to become proficient in one new activity this year. Consider learning a foreign language, picking up a new sport, playing a musical instrument, or improving a professional activity such as public speaking or bookkeeping. Learning something new will keep your mind sharp, add variety to your life, and expand your social network.
  • Reward yourself. Adopting new habits and learning new things is hard work. It’s easier if you reward yourself regularly. One famous study on motivation tasked participants with working out difficult puzzles. One group was given chocolate chip cookies as a reward and the second was given… radishes! Not surprisingly, the first group was able to do a better job solving puzzles, and for a longer time.*
  • Take the long view. Most New Year’s resolutions fail because we are set in established habits and too impatient to change them. Allow yourself to pause, forgive yourself if you fail, and resume your effort when you feel stronger. As Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window … but coaxed downstairs one step at a time.”

*[ Baumeister study, American Psychological Association. ]