Changing old habits isn’t easy — keeping resolutions takes more than the vague concept of “willpower.” Making a New Year’s resolution — or an anytime resolution? Plan for success:

1. Find your motivation.

Be clear about what you want to change and why. Look at what you will gain from this change and use it to maintain your momentum to do things differently. Concerns about health can be a powerful motivator. The smoker who is having shortness of breath climbing up a flight of stairs can turn that negative symptom into a springboard that helps to launch a plan for change.

There’s nothing magical about making a change on Jan. 1. Every day of the year is an opportunity to do things differently.

2. Make an action plan.

Some people choose a structured approach, such as a weight-loss program or smoking-cessation group. Others choose to tackle the change on their own. Either way can result in success. Think about your past attempts to make a similar change. Try to remember what strategies worked well for you and which did not. Were there certain stumbling blocks that tripped you up before? If so, keep those in mind as you make your new plan.

3. Be specific.

The more specific you can be about your plan, the more likely you will succeed. Just resolving “I’m going to get in shape this year” is too vague. Try to be more specific: “I’m going to exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes.” Then you need to think about the details of your action plan:

  • What time of day will you exercise, and where will you do it?
  • What type of activity will you do?
  • Do you have the equipment you need?
  • Would it help if you had a friend join you?

Try to make the change something that fits your likes and dislikes. If you hate jogging, don’t pick it — there are plenty of other activities to give you similar benefits.

4. Be kind to yourself along the way.

Many resolutions start with self-criticism — “I’m so fat, I’ve got to lose weight this year.” That kind of negativity is more self-defeating than self-motivating. Change is difficult, so recognize any success you are able to achieve. You don’t have to reach your ultimate goal before you can reward yourself.

If you are working on a 20-pound weight-loss goal and you’ve lost five pounds, think of a nice reward that doesn’t involve food.

Some people giving up smoking save their cigarette money in a jar, helping them see how much of their cash had been going up in smoke. They can spend it instead on something special they want.

Small decisions each day paint the big picture of health, well-being and happiness.

6. Consider your environment.

Your surroundings can make your efforts to change easier or more difficult. If you’re giving up smoking, avoid secondhand smoke in public places. If you are working on healthier eating habits, keep junk food out of the house and have lots of healthy, delicious alternatives handy.

7. Don’t let temptation lead to relapse.

Expect that you will at least occasionally feel drawn back toward your old habits, and beware! If you hear yourself saying things like, “just one cigarette,” or “right after I eat this brownie, I’ll go back to eating healthy,” remind yourself about your motivation for tackling this change in the first place. Give yourself a pep talk, recognize what you’ve already accomplished and what the long-term benefits will be when you achieve your goal.

8. Stay vigilant.

After you achieve your resolution it takes continued awareness, motivation and effort to maintain that change. Anyone can slip from time to time, but if you keep on track with your plan, you may eventually notice that you’ve developed new behaviors that feel more and more natural for you.

Resolve to nurture the positives too! Socialize, enjoy nature or good podcast, relax, laugh!

There’s nothing magical about making a change on Jan. 1. Every day of the year is an opportunity to do things differently. Diets don’t need to start on a Monday, and we don’t have to quit smoking on our birthday. We make dozens of small decisions each day that influence the big picture of our health, well-being and happiness.

As you aspire to wellness in the new year, remember to foster the positives, not just eliminate the negatives. Socialize with people who care about you, enjoy activities and interests outside of work, spend time enjoying nature and relaxing, laugh! Resolutions don’t have to be only about giving things up, but can include nurturing anything that enhances wellness of body, mind and spirit.