Just about everybody makes New Year's resolutions. Some are personal, others are professional; some are minor, others are life-changing. Whether we're vowing to stop some kind of negative behavior or swearing to start some kind of positive behavior, one fact about New Year's resolutions remains unchanged: We fail more often than we succeed.

The question is, Why? Although sometimes our resolutions are too ambitious or we try to change too many things at once, I think we fail because our process is flawed. If you're serious about turning your resolutions into reality, here are four simple steps you can take to improve the odds of success.

Pros and cons

First, our resolutions won't succeed unless we have a strong enough reason to change. A good first step is to make a list with one column for all the reasons that support the resolution, and a second column with all of the consequences of not achieving it. And I'm not talking about a mental list -- I mean a written list that you can consult later to remind yourself of your commitment. By articulating not only the pleasure of achieving the resolution but the pain of falling short, you double your motivation.

Make a plan

Creating a plan should be easy for remodelers. As is the case with your paying projects, your resolutions need a map of the milestones and a schedule for completion. Break the resolution down into discrete tasks, and set a goal for achieving each step along the way. Again, you need to write everything down, and, to give yourself the best chance to meet expectations, you need to be realistic. It's better to take longer to get results than to abandon the effort after early setbacks.

Burn your bridges

Many years ago, during my wife's pregnancy, I resolved to quit smoking by the time my son was born. I sketched out a plan, but I didn't stop there: I told my staff about it, and I even made a point of mentioning my resolution in sales training classes I conducted.

After making such a public commitment, do you think I could ever go back and start smoking again? No way -- and not just because of the pain and embarrassment I would feel -- but because of the effect it would have on the trust of others in my advice. That kind of pain is a big motivator.

Check your progress

Finally -- and this is the most important part -- you must have a way to monitor your progress to make sure you stay on course. Think about a plane flying from D.C. to L.A. To make sure the plane arrives at the right place at the right time, the pilots adjust the plane's course hundreds of times along the way to respond to changing conditions, like head or tail winds, other air traffic, or developing weather systems.

The easiest and most foolproof way for you to check your progress toward your resolutions and make adjustments on the fly is to schedule an appointment with yourself every week. Write it down on your calendar, and use the time to map out action steps you need to take to get back on track toward achieving your goal. This monitoring step takes only a few extra minutes each week, but it is key to achieving your resolution. --Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and the author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program. He can be reached at (301) 229-4600 or [email protected].