A lot of people make new year’s resolutions. Most of them don’t keep them. Why? Because we tend to go about it all wrong, making the decision after the ninth glass of champagne or because we set completely unattainable goals for ourselves.

Not this year. If you’re looking to make changes – however big – there are a few things you should consider before you just throw out a resolution to lose a random number of poundage, drop a random vice, or learn a random hobby. There’s a science to it, like most things worth doing. Here, then, are some things to resolve before you resolve.

Be realistic

Very few of us are going to win the U.S. Open next year (maybe 2012), or even qualify for the tournament. So why set your goals to a giant leap when baby steps might be much more doable?  If you actually do want to win the U.S. Open, then your resolutions should be to improve your forehand, get your VO2 max higher, or get good on the net. Think about the next thing you have to do to achieve your goal and make THAT your resolution rather than shooting for the moon. Which brings us to our next point…

Don’t resolve goals, resolve means

Resolve to make do with more or less of something as opposed to just “losing ten pounds.” Your goal should be a means, not an end. In this case, your goal should be to stop going to a particular fast food joint on the way home or to run three times a week. Resolve to take an action, don’t resolve to do something or be something more “in general.”

Tell your friends

Consider your friends, in this case, an insurance policy against your own laziness. The more close friends you tell about your resolutions, the more people that you have to be around (other than yourself) that will know if you don’t follow through. This is the best with weight loss, which is readily visible as opposed to say, kicking smoking which can be hidden behind of smokescreen of secret cig breaks. Still, all it takes is one friend to bust you and you just might get back on track.

Buck tradition

The New Year is based on an arbitrary time, in the orbit of the planet we happen to live on, which is statistically likely to be one of many we could’ve inhabited. The point: Just because it’s January 1 doesn’t mean you’ve got to reinvent your life or even a small fraction of it. Resolving something can happen long before or after this annual tradition. Our surgeon general puts it well: “Don’t make your resolutions based on what is bothering you or what is on your mind at that time. Making a resolution at the New Year can put a lot of pressure on you. So make yours in February or March. And by the same token, if you promise to quit smoking or lose weight by March and you haven’t done it, don’t give up. Just make another resolution you can stick with." This will be the last time we ever quote the Surgeon General.