New Year’s Resolutions: How To Make, Keep, + Love Them!

Key Points

  • New Year’s resolutions give you a sense of meaning, purpose, and control over your life.

  • It’s never too late to recommit to your resolutions.

  • Adequate planning, sustained effort, accountability, a tailored environment, and personal grace are vital to maintaining your goals. 

Fireworks pop and crackle against the sky. Although you watch them twice a year, they never cease to leave you in a state of awe. You smile softly as your eyes lock on the explosive swirl of colors. A magical elation rushes through you. You feel buzzed, but not from that New Year’s Eve glass of champagne.

For a few moments, it appears anything's possible. Quitting that pesky habit, resolving a broken relationship, healing from the past, and focusing on your health are finally within reach. Before the clock strikes midnight, you decide to make a new resolution.

Sounds all too familiar, right? The holiday atmosphere inspires improvement in all areas of life. The catch? Resolutions are much easier made than kept. 

Keep reading for strategies to help you stay dedicated all year long. 

Why Should You Make New Year’s Resolutions?

A brand new year feels like an opportunity to get things right. It’s a clean slate, full of resurrected hope, second chances, and better tomorrows.  

The annual goal-setting tradition traces back to the ancient Babylonians, who made “pledges” to their gods for good favor.

In the 2020s, these resolutions captivate hearts and minds across the globe. People set fresh goals and revisit past ambitions, clinging to the promise of a happier life.

Girl writing in journal

Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed. and facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont says, “When we set New Year’s resolutions, we are utilizing a very important concept called self-efficacy, which means that by virtue of aspiring to a goal and following through on it, I have a sense of control over what’s happening in my life.”

Resolutions give your life a refreshing sense of meaning and purpose. They also bring clarity, structure, and direction to your goals. Resolutions equip you to chase your dreams and handle setbacks as they arise. 

Sustained by your innate human desire to improve, you set out to make positive changes that last. The resolutions you choose define what’s most important to you — what drives you in life. You become intentional about personal growth, self-improvement, and pursuing health and happiness. 

The comforting part? Even if you fail or temporarily get off track, it’s never too late to recommit to your resolutions. Plus, the process of creating and striving toward your goals becomes rewarding! 

Why Do Resolutions Often Fail?

While it's widely assumed that people ditch their resolutions two to three months into the New Year, the date reserved for “Quitter’s Day” suggests otherwise. This infamous holiday happens on the second Friday of January.

So, why do new resolutions often fail a mere two weeks after they’re created? Why do so many abandon their resolve and settle back into old patterns?

The simple answer is that goals lack structure, specificity, and accountability. Goal-setters don’t establish a proper reward system or anticipate delayed gratification. Even worse, they’re unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices for real change. 

Unexpected life events, changes, and challenges can hinder progress with a shaky foundation. For some, not seeing immediate results leads to giving up altogether. 

What Are 2023’s Top New Year’s Resolutions?

According to a Forbes health survey, 2023’s top resolutions are:

  1. Improve mental health

  2. Upgrade fitness

  3. Lose weight

  4. Eat healthier

  5. Be smarter with finances

Mental health takes the number one spot. Younger generations, from ages 18 to 41, claim the highest percentage. 

Woman flexing muscles

Other popular resolutions include quitting smoking, learning a new skill or hobby, spending more time with loved ones, enhancing work performance, restricting alcohol, getting organized, traveling more, and limiting social media screen time.

How Can You Stay Committed to Your New Resolutions?

Staying committed to your resolutions requires adequate planning, sustained effort, accountability, a tailored environment, and personal grace. 

Check out the following 10 strategies to help you stay on track.

Mentally Prepare

Mentally condition yourself before jumping in. Contemplate your resolutions from the prior year. Reflect on your successes and areas where you didn’t see progress. 

Try not to dwell on your failures. Remind yourself that they’re not losses; they’re lessons. Evaluate the reasons behind your failure and find appropriate remedies.

Regarding your victories, savor them. Soak up the joy and gratification. Those feelings are your “why.”

Choose a Positive Goal Type

Resolution hopefuls start with the right intentions, but they often set the wrong type of goals. Approach-oriented goals involve reaching or maintaining a positive outcome, while avoidance-oriented goals focus on eliminating undesired outcomes. 

While both goal types are practical, approach-oriented resolutions produce more pleasant emotions and experiences. Good news? You can reframe just about anything into an approach goal! It’s all about your perspective.

Avoidance goal: Exercise five times a week to avoid gaining weight (and feeling criticized by others). 

Approach goal: Exercise five times weekly to feel confident and energized, sleep better, and stay fit. 

It may seem small or silly, but altering your mindset significantly affects your success and progress. 

Want to delve further? On top of developing approach goals, choose process goals over outcome goals. Process goals (the steps) are 100 percent in your control. Outcome goals (the results) are not. 

Fitness girl

Outcome goal: Lose 20 pounds in two months. 

Process goal: Eat healthy foods, drink more water, and limit refined sugars for two months. 

You have control over the process, but you can’t always dictate the results.

The takeaway? Approach-oriented process goals keep you committed.

Pick Meaningful Resolutions

Choose resolutions that mean something to you. They must align with your goals, priorities, and aspirations in life. Purposeful resolutions create a “must do” attitude, so you make them a top priority. 

If you feel pressured by family or friends to pick a specific resolution — and that’s your only reason for doing it — you set yourself up for failure and resentment. You must genuinely desire to change, and your goals must benefit you above anyone else. 

Before committing to a resolution, ask yourself one question: 

What life change or new behavior will you be most grateful that you made? 

Go with that.

Define Your Goals

Getting fit, eating right, and responsibly managing your finances are wonderful resolutions. However, these goals are far too vague.

You give yourself the benefit of the doubt when your resolutions are broad or generic. Looking back on your actions, you justify, “I ate healthier last year — mostly.”

You check that goal off your to-do list but lack a sense of true accomplishment. What does eating healthy actually look like? What daily actions can you monitor to hold yourself accountable and track your progress? 

Be as specific as possible. Define your goal by creating actionable steps that bring you closer to it. The more detailed, the better. 

Instead of “eat healthier,” label your resolution with relevant actions. Only eat out twice a month, cook your weekday meals at home, hire a nutritionist, and limit yourself to two junk food items per grocery trip. These steps are measurable and keep you honest. 

Scale Down Your Goals

Make several tiny changes rather than one big change. It’s much more doable and a lot less daunting. Simplifying foreign behaviors is critical to habit formation. 

Writing in journal

If consistency in your fitness routine is a serious struggle, avoid jumping into workouts that are too long or intense. Pick an easy duration. Have five or 10 minutes? Get it down. Normalize it. Invent an automatic behavior that’s practical and attainable. 

Gradually expand the small behavior until its magnitude matches your original goal. Designate a spot in your existing routine where fitness (or another resolution) most naturally fits. 

Try bundling your new behavior with a current habit. Over time, the pre-existing habit becomes a motivating trigger for the new habit. 

Do you enjoy starting your days with a light breakfast and a cup of coffee? Add a 30-minute workout to the end of your morning routine. Over time, food and caffeine become your signals to exercise. 

Consistent repetition is key. It trains your brain and body to welcome new behaviors. 

Don’t Overload Yourself

Spreading yourself too thin is a recipe for disaster. When your resolutions turn into heavy burdens, you dread them. Too many goals at a time feel downright frustrating, overwhelming, and unattainable. 

The result? Inevitable disappointment. You're discouraged and defeated before starting, so you never do. 

Pro Tip: Make a short list of manageable resolutions. Prioritize them from greatest to least. Group similar resolutions together and simplify. Above all else, know your limitations. Nailing one or two resolutions is better than failing at a bunch of them.

Create a Healthy Reward System

Rewarding yourself is crucial, but consider this little twist: The most effective rewards are immediate and intrinsic, not ones you obtain for yourself. 

While grabbing a post-workout coffee or smoothie may be gratifying, it’s not a sustainable source of motivation. You need a quick dopamine hit, like the electrifying thrill and accomplishment you feel after an early morning run.

Strong girl posing

Likewise, the natural energy you get from eating nutritious foods or the pride of turning down a sweet treat becomes addicting.

Identifying the instant payoff helps your brain construct positive associations with your desired behavior, increasing your likelihood of repeating it. 

They still encourage secondary rewards (best of both worlds mentality). Looking to relight your fitness fire? Buy new workout clothes, schedule a hot stone pedicure, and sleep in on your off days. You deserve it.

Get Accountability

With no outside support, you quit at the first sign of failure. The initial dopamine surge fades after a few weeks, so there’s little motivation left to keep you going.

Besides, if no one knows about your resolution, you avoid the humiliation of failing publicly. Goals developed in isolation don't last very long.

The solution? Publicize your resolutions. Post them on social media, tell your work buddies, and ask a responsible loved one to hold you accountable. Get someone who deeply cares about you to check in once or twice a week. Update them honestly about your progress, setbacks, and slip-ups. 

Having people on board makes you more obligated to your resolutions. Bonus? They joyfully cheer you on along the way. Sometimes all you need is a reminder that someone else believes in you. 

Tailor Your Environment

Your environment determines your success. Your visual cues and daily surroundings either empower you to grow or tempt you to cave. 

Scarce willpower, low self-control, excessive stress, and negative emotions lead to slip-ups and give-ups, especially in a toxic atmosphere. 

To tailor your environment, get rid of temptations and triggers. If you wish to eat healthily, throw out your junk food and pin nutritious cooking videos online. Want to exercise after work? Always keep a fully stocked gym bag (with pre-workout snacks) in your car.

Looking to save money? Unsubscribe to online shops and boutiques. No more notifications about their latest drops and discounts. Out of sight, out of mind.

Embrace Grace and Patience

Remember that you’re human. Seriously. The end goal isn’t perfection; it’s progress.

Perfectionism makes you feel powerless, trapped in your mind’s unrelenting self-criticism. Progress lets you learn from your mistakes and celebrate mini-victories. 

Woman exercising

Failures, setbacks, and occasional mess-ups are inevitable. How do you plan to respond to them? To recover and move forward?

Try to balance discipline with grace. Use patience and self-compassion, and always have a backup plan ready. 

New Year, New You!

M.D. and Board-Certified Psychiatrist Glenn Miller states, “The fact that so many people keep making resolutions year after year, even when they do not, or cannot, always follow through on them indicates they have hope and a certain level of belief in their ability to facilitate change, becoming more of who they truly want to be.”

Perfection isn't necessary to grow or change — just do the best you can with what you have. Select practical, positive, and meaningful goals with immediate rewards. Get accountability, tailor your environment, employ grace, and be patient.

Resolutions are like mini promises you make to yourself, sustained by grit and optimism. Developing a series of small, healthy habits is the best way to arrive at your goals. 

Whether you’re starting from scratch or hitting the reset button on your resolutions, remember this: Habits aren’t a destination but a continual lifestyle.

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