It happens unexpectedly. You’ve resolved to give up any one of a number of bad habits for the new year and almost as if you were possessed, that piece of wayward chocolate makes its way into your mouth or climbing on the treadmill slips your mind, and the new year has barely started.

Now is not the time to say all is lost in your quest for self-improvement; it’s just time to get real about what you truly intend to accomplish in the new year and more importantly, how to go about it so you set yourself up for the sweet taste of success rather than the gnawing guilt of failure.

There may be things you attempted during the previous year but failed, in your eyes. It’s not the time to wallow in self-loathing for your perceived shortcomings, but it is a good place from where to begin casting your eyes forward. Look for things you could have done better and what you’d still like to see change.

Making changes that improve areas you’ve identified is not constrained by dates on the calendar. Real change requires time and commitment, and one or two slip-ups should not sway you from accomplishing your end goal. Be realistic about your weak points and how you can strengthen them.

It’s one thing to “think” about making a change, but for many people, physically writing down their intentions makes the goal and the process more concrete. Whether written down in a planner, tracked on a calendar or typed into a computer file, it helps reinforce both the idea and commitment to make positive change.

Make sure wherever it is written is easily remembered and referred to often.

It’s not uncommon to attack resolutions with a vengeance in January, only to burn out before February rolls around. Remember — anything worth accomplishing is worth all the time it takes to make it happen. Maybe you didn’t make every trip to the gym you swore to yourself you were going to, but look back and see if you made more than you normally used to, and build on that.

Not everything can be accomplished in January, either. For example, if you resolved to bicycle 25 miles five times a week, Midwestern winters are not the ideal time to attempt it if you don’t have a gym membership.

A Chines proverb attributed to Lao Tzu states, “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” Before you look at scaling some momentous undertaking, take the first step, and then the next. By breaking large goals down into smaller, more attainable plateaus, you can figuratively catch your breath and re-focus on reaching that eventual peak.

You’ll be planting that flag of achievement soon enough, just prepare yourself well for the climb.

Don’t think that you have to pursue your resolutions single-handedly and without anyone knowing what your goal is. There’s a tremendous amount of support to be found in your friends and training partners. Perhaps they’re feeling stronger on a day you’re weak. Their words of encouragement and reassurance can make your end-goal more attainable, and they will most likely be happy to celebrate your success with you.

Take a close look at your day and see where you may have been spending time that could be re-directed toward achieving your goals. If you’re adding something to your daily schedule, you also have to add the time in which you will accomplish it. If you find a period of time that could be better spent in a more productive way, dedicate that to attaining your goal.

Congratulations are not only reserved for accomplishing a goal, but also for making a solid effort. If you fell short of your goal, instead focus on the progress you made toward it and again, remind yourself that improvement takes time that is not always measured by the calendar on the wall.

You can do it.