We have all lived through the reality that no matter how many times we “set goals” for the new year, they tend to evaporate by early February. For many of us, goals just don’t motivate. They sit on our lists like judgmental parents or teachers, reminding us that we are falling short again.

At the same time, we like to see the coming new year as an opportunity to start again, to remake some aspect of our lives, to be the better self we wish for. We want a fresh start, a blank page, a way to believe we can be different in some area of life.

In my own life, and in my clients, I have seen the power of some well-formed questions that identify not just the “what” but adding in the “why” for the changes we seek. We also use some principles from the field of behavioral economics — a series of studies that help identify how to do more of what benefits and less of what doesn’t.

Madeline, a long time client, was clear that she wanted to get some movement into her daily routine. It was a goal she had set — and ignored — for several years. I asked her why this goal was important for her.

“I know I feel better when I move during the day,” she answered promptly. “What else?” I wondered.

“I sleep better. And I often have less severe pain when I am consistent.” She gathered momentum. “I also know that I feel better about myself — more confident and even happier.”

“Wow. That’s a lot of benefit to pass up!”

“I know. So what keeps me from it?” Madeline was clearly frustrated.

She had her “why it mattered” fully in place.

Now she just needed some strategies.

The first was a “commitment device.” This is a plan that helps keep a commitment. For some people when a plan is written down, it takes on the power of must do. For others, it is a person to share the activity with or report to when it’s done. Some people do the thing they promised first thing in the morning. It is a way to get yourself to do the thing you do have trouble doing. For Madeline, her plan was to put it in her daily planner as an activity at 8am.

Then we worked on her “implementation intention.” That is an “if-then” plan.

Researchers have found that just a commitment is too vague. It needs specificity.

So Madeline agreed that she would make her commitment specific.

“I will do walking exercise to fun music for 20 minutes four times a week in my neighborhood at 8am. If it rains or snows, I will walk at the inside track at the gym.” She choose Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday as her walking days.

That kind of clear and directed statement has much more power to keep us doing our intention.

Finally, she needed a “threshold ritual.” What could help her get started? First, she recorded the music she loved to walk to, and had it ready on her MP3 player. She gathered two pairs of shoes and put them by the front door, along with her walking jacket and a pair of gloves. She has everything ready and visible to help her get over the threshold quickly, to build that habit.

You can apply these techniques to any area where you want to be different — it is a little more work, but a lot more successful than just writing down goals!

Here is to your healthy and successful 2017!