New year, new you? How to make and keep a New Year’s resolution.
New year, new you? How to make and keep a New Year’s resolution.

New year, new you? How to make and keep a New Year’s resolution.

Most resolutions fail. Beat the odds by crafting one that actually fits you.

Have you ever wondered why the parking lots at gyms get full in January and then dwindle by Valentine’s Day? While many people make New Year’s resolutions to exercise more, almost as many quickly give up.

And this scenario doesn’t just apply to gym participation. Whether it’s eating healthier, learning a new hobby, spending more time with loved ones, making more money…the list goes on and on…most of us can’t stick to New Year’s resolutions.

Why is that? We identify a change we want to make and take steps to make it happen, but then we get discouraged or bored and revert back to status quo. Is that because we’re lazy? Weak? Undeserving?

Absolutely not! There are specific reasons that most New Year’s resolutions fail, and they have nothing to do with your worthiness and everything to do with the resolution itself. Read on to learn more about setting goals for the new year that you can actually achieve.

Illustration of man working out as part of New Year's resolutions
Illustration by Joseph Moore
Why resolutions often fail

New Year’s resolutions commonly fail for these reasons:

1. They aren’t meaningful (enough) to you

Is this a change you really want for yourself or is it related to social pressure? For example, do you really want to lose weight or are you reacting to other people’s expectations?

Sometimes, we are successful at making changes in response to ultimatums or pleas from loved ones. We might seek treatment for addiction or mental health issues because we value our relationships and want to feel better for our families.

However, lasting change does require internal motivation. This sounds obvious, but it is worth considering—if you don’t really want the change you’re planning, you aren’t likely to keep it.

These questions can help you figure out your motivation for making a change.

  • What is your goal?
  • Why do you want to make this change? What will it accomplish?
  • What got you to the point of wanting to make this change?
  • What are the pros and cons? How will it affect you and your loved ones, for better and worse?
  • What would happen if you didn’t make this change? How would you feel if your life stayed like it is now?
  • How ready are you to make this change? Is there something that would help you feel more ready? Would talking to someone about it help?
  • What keeps you from making this change? What are you afraid might happen?
2. They’re too vague

Many resolutions are hard to quantify—what does it mean to eat healthier, how do you force yourself to exercise, how do you make a place hire you? Vague goals may lead you to do nothing and encourage you to feel inadequate or hopeless.

To set yourself up for success, it’s important to define your resolution and break larger goals into small steps—the smaller the better! Small steps help you plan more effectively and allow you to experience quick wins. This builds your motivation to take the next step, and on and on, until you start to see results from all of your hard work.

Each step should be:

  • Specific (say exactly what you’re going to do)
  • Measurable (easy to tell whether you did it or not)
  • Time-sensitive (it must happen within a certain amount of time)
3. You haven’t made a realistic plan to achieve them

Develop a concrete plan

Based on the work you’ve put into listing the steps of your goal, create a concrete plan for the first step, answering whatwhen and where you’ll do it.

For example: I will go for a walk at Sylvan Park on Wednesday at 5:00 PM.

Recognize Obstacles

Imagine a typical week of your life. How will your daily responsibilities, habits, social desires and other factors conflict with your goal? Write down as many obstacles as you can think of and then brainstorm solutions for each one.

For example, say you want to quit smoking but you also enjoy taking smoke breaks at work. Is there a healthier way to reward yourself?

The more fully you prepare for obstacles, the more likely you are to overcome them.

Build Motivation

Willpower is overrated and unreliable. Lasting change requires you to throw the “kitchen sink” at reaching your goals. Work toward making each step of your goal as easy to complete as possible. Spend time crafting motivational tools—it will pay off in the end!

Ideas for building motivation

Motivation will help you keep chugging toward your goal, day after day. Don’t rely on yourself alone. Put these tools in place to boost you up when you’re feeling tired and low.

Create a routine and rituals

Daily rituals are important to keep you inspired and moving toward your goal. Experiment to see what works for you. What consistently makes you feel good? Try to do it every day at around the same time for several days and evaluate. Here are some ideas:

  • Practice a 10-minute yoga routine
  • Write a three-page “brain dump” to clear your mind
  • Play rock anthems while you take a shower
  • Go for a 15-minute jog before breakfast
Develop a mantra

This is a verbal statement that encourages you to keep working toward your goal. Try different ideas until you find one that fits you. Say your mantra aloud to start the day. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • I am capable. I am strong. I can do this.
  • I’m doing this for me.
  • One day at a time.
  • I will get what I need.
  • One foot in front of the other.
Share your goals publicly

Post your goals on social media or tell your friends and family directly. This will help you feel more accountable for achieving your goal. Share your successes with them, too.

Learn from your setbacks and recognize your accomplishments
  • If something doesn’t go well, step back and evaluate why it happened that way and what you could tweak to make it go better next time.
  • Before bed, write down three things that went well during your day and why they went well. This helps you recognize your accomplishments and the specific things you’re doing that work well.
Create a visual reminder of your goal and the progress you’re making

Here are some ideas:

  • Every morning, draw four circles in which you write your goals for the day, the week, the year and your life. Change them as needed.
  • Make a visualization board. Cut out pictures that represent your goals. You can add inspirational quotes or other things that inspire and encourage you.
  • Use a calendar to mark your progress. Each time you complete a step, mark it on your calendar. If you don’t take yourself too seriously, you can even make a sticker chart. They work great for kids, and they might work for you, too. Play around and have fun!
Next Steps

Many of us feel a bit lost at the start of a new year. We may want to make changes in our lives but feel uncertain of where to start or feel blocked by mental health issues like depression or anxiety.

If life feels overwhelming or difficult to manage, you might benefit from talking to a mental health professional.

If you or someone you love would benefit from talking to a mental health provider in Tennessee, contact Athena Care.

One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.

Photo of Rachel Swan
Rachel Swan, MS

Rachel has a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University, where she spent 16 years as a Research Analyst in the Psychology and Human Development Department.