As we ring in 2020, people are busy making New Year’s resolutions. To make sure these resolutions don’t fizzle out by the end of the month, follow three simple steps.

First, be deliberate about your ultimate goal. People have a tendency to pursue things they can count: the number of steps taken daily, the hours spent with a child, or the figures in a budget. Tracking numerical progress is straightforward but don’t lose site of your ultimate objectives: becoming healthier, strengthening a relationship, or completing a project.

Second, stop comparing yourself to others. Psychological research shows that we understand ourselves relative to family, friends, and even strangers. Sometimes these gaps motivate change (think about the fitter person you want to emulate) but other times they leave us despondent (think again about that fitter person). To make matters worse, when we do improve, we find new comparison groups–the even fitter person. It’s hard to see progress because we’re constantly upping the stakes.

Several years ago, I vowed to become more environmentally responsible. I was in the midst of research studying environmentalists with Katy DeCelles at the University of Toronto and Jane Dutton at the University of Michigan. I quickly realized my efforts to recycle and minimize waste were amateur. The people in our studies risked their careers daily to convince their organizations to do more for the environment. They spent their evenings assessing the carbon footprint from their dinners. I felt completely inadequate.

But I wasn’t alone. Surprisingly, the environmentalists also experienced the same doubts. Despite all that they did, they looked around and saw others taking even greater actions. Overlooking their remarkable efforts, they instead wondered what they could be doing with “more”—more money to spend on a greener home or car, more time to do greater outreach to friends and family, and a “bigger” job to make a bigger difference.

By focusing on what they lacked, the activists ended up missing easy chances to do more with what they already had. The evidence was striking. We gave participants some relatively straightforward ways to help the environment–recycling a bottle or signing a pledge to turn off their lights for an hour. Many of the hardworking environmentalists overlooked these chances because they were burdened by high self-doubts without correspondingly high positive self-evaluations.

The third strategy is to start moving. Undoubtedly, it’s hard to reach our goals if we stand still. Some people like to jump in and make things happens. Others require carefully laid out plans before acting. Although we frequently credit careful planning for our successes, remember that the biggest factor in meeting goals is what we do, not what we plan to do. Even when we take small steps—and even if they misfire—we show ourselves that maintaining the status quo is not an option. An added benefit: The more we do, the more we learn, allowing us to make adjustments and right our path to our goals.

Following these three steps can help put you on a path to making 2020 a year of personal change.


This is an updated article originally published here: