The end of the year — and the promise of a fresh start in January — can motivate people to set big self-improvement goals.

While it may be admirable to resolve to kick a bad habit or work to improve a particular area of your life, it can be tough to make big changes quickly.

If you want to focus on self-improvement, growth and happiness in the New Year, consider not tackling everything at once. Instead, take small steps toward changes that you can stick to over time.

How to Build a Habit: Start Small

There’s no shortage of information out there on how to build habits. What most of those articles, books and guides have in common is the recommendation to start small.

Writer James Clear explains that you should not only start with a small step forward, but also an easy one. He points to research that says willpower is like a muscle, and you can wear it out.

To solve the problem, says Clear, “Pick a new habit that is easy enough that you don’t need motivation to do it.” From there, keep it small! Clear’s next step is to improve gradually by looking for one percent gains, not massive leaps of progress.

Clear also suggests breaking habits up into bite-sized pieces (like meditating twice a day for 10 minutes per session, rather than sitting down for 20 minutes once) and letting go of perfection. Overall consistency, he says, is more important than never making a mistake.

Tiny Changes Can Transform Your Life

Willpower is like a muscle, and you can wear it out.

Not sure where to start? Consider some of these easy ways you can incorporate positive change into your life, and make self-improvement a daily habit:

Want to learn something new? Do a lesson a day. Belle Beth Cooper of Buffer shared how she learned French by using the Duolingo app — and committing to one 5-minute lesson every morning.

Read more, one page at a time. Many people want to read more, but find picking up and finishing an entire book a little daunting. Don’t worry about the whole book. Just read one page every day until reading becomes a habit.

Add more good stuff in (rather than trying to restrict the bad). If you want to make a lifestyle change with your diet, focus on trying one new healthy food every week — then put that food into your normal rotation. The more good you add in, the less room there is for poorer dietary choices.

Contribute more to savings and investments, a little at a time. You know you want to save a certain percentage of your income each month for the future. You don’t have to do it all at once; try to increase your savings by just one percent each month!

Cut back on spending (but don’t feel like you need to eliminate everything). Love your daily latte? Try simply cutting back to treating yourself on a Monday to get your week started, rather than buying a takeaway coffee every day — then take the money you didn’t spend and save it instead!

Pick a Monthly Theme for Self Improvement

Not everything can be broken down into micro-steps toward progress.

If you do set one of those big audacious goals for yourself, consider how you can break the challenge down month by month. This gives you a 30-day window in which to focus on a specific aspect of your larger goal.

Choosing to completely revamp your health and fitness routine, for example, is a massive undertaking. But you can break it down by assigning a specific goal to each month.

In January, you might commit to abstaining from alcohol and desserts. In February, you could dedicate yourself to cooking at least 80 percent of your meals at home from whole foods (not processed, prepackaged dinners). In March, you might want to commit to hitting the gym 4 times per week — and so on throughout the year.

Or, perhaps you want to make this the year you get serious about your finances. January might be a time to review your situation and make a game plan. February could be devoted to tracking your spending and keeping to a detailed budget. March might call for a list of financial to-do’s that will help you reach success, like getting life insurance coverage or building an emergency fund.

There’s nothing wrong with setting giant goals for progress in the coming year — just make sure you find some way to break them down into manageable pieces. Take it one step at a time, and you’ll be on your way to creating habits that stick and changes that leave you feeling happier and more successful.

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