David Hale Sylvester on how to make a New Year’s resolution stick

By Trust for Public Land
Published December 31, 2015

David Hale Sylvester on how to make a New Year’s resolution stick

"New year, new you"—it’s easier said than done. Although most of us can think of changes we’d like to make in our lives (more time outdoors, anyone?), making good on resolutions can be a challenge. We start out with the best intentions, slack off by spring, and, come December, find ourselves writing the same to-do list we did the year before.

So, what’s the best way to turn a personal goal into a real change? To get some advice, we turned to someone who knows a thing or two about resolve. David Hale Sylvester was 28 when he first seized on the idea of a cross-country bike tour, and not much of a spandex-sporting cyclist at the time. But after losing a close friend in the September 11 attacks, he was determined to channel his grief into a positive experience—and two wheels seemed like the way to go.

"When you ride a bicycle, you travel amongst people slowly enough to hear and feel what may bother and elate them, but fast enough to not get bogged down by them—unless you elect to,” David writes in his book, Traveling at the Speed of Life“Whenever you bike to someone, they appreciate your presence even more and admire your effort for just showing up.”

Fast-forward 14 years, and David has logged thousands of miles on four continents—including three trip across the U.S. and an Asian epic from Istanbul to Beijing. Along the way, he’s spent countless hours volunteering with local charities and doling out hugs and high fives to strangers (who tend to walk away friends).

"I didn't see any of this coming back in 2001," David admits. But as the saying goes, any journey starts with a single step (or pedal-stroke!). For those of us trying to pin down those first steps as resolutions for 2016, David has three things to keep in mind.

1. Ask the right questions.

"Most people start out with something like, 'I want to get rich,' or 'I want to lose weight,'" David notes. "Try to think a little bit deeper than that. Ask yourself why you want what you want. What is it you plan to do with that money, or that fitness? How come?" Focusing on a reason rather than an end result can help you stay motivated when your enthusiasm start to fade.

2. Break it down.

This is the hard part! "It's good to have a big wish, but you also need supporting steps. Start with your goal, then reverse-engineer it back to where you are now," David says. This can feel overwhelming at the outset—but the satisfaction of completing smaller tasks will help you build momentum toward your larger goal."When you write a line through it? That feels awesome."

3. Tell somebody.

"Actually," says David, "tell two people. Tell somebody who loves you, and tell a hater—somebody's who's going to say, 'Yeah right, you'll never do that.' You're going to need both kinds of energy." Social media's one way to get the word out, but it's no substitute for a real conversation. "Remember," says David, "there was a world before Facebook—and things still got done!"

David's probably right about Facebook, but we'd love to hear from you there anyway: tell us your 2016 resolution, and we'll be rooting for you all year. 

Trust for Public Land

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