15 Realistic Ways To Make Your New Year Resolutions Work

The arrival of a New Year often comes with mixed feelings. We want our lives to improve and we promise ourselves to do better. But every year we face the fact that we’ve failed to keep most of our past New Year’s resolutions.

A study by the University of Scranton reports that only 8% of people successfully achieve their resolutions. That doesn’t mean you are destined to fail. There are techniques you can use to help you be one of the few who are able to make significant improvements to their lifestyle and habits. Consider these 15 psychological “tricks” to achieve your New Year resolutions and make them stick.

1. Start out with one

One of the main reasons people fail to complete their New Year resolutions is they have too many. Change is hard. Start with one resolution and focus all your energy on achieving it. According to Darlene Lancer, a licensed marriage and family therapist, most common reason people fail is they make too many of them.

Do you want to develop a history of keeping resolutions? Then begin with the most important one and make it something achievable. Lancer states, “For change to last, make sure your motive expresses your true self and fosters your highest good. Your goal must be congruent with your core beliefs. Resolutions to make changes for someone else’s approval, for monetary gain, or because you think you should are hard to sustain.”

In this regard, consider character traits that you want to change. Perhaps things like: stop complaining, show more kindness to others, or simply even committing to taking a walk twice a week are much more attainable than to lose 80 pounds when you already have a long history of losing the battle. Get some success behind you and it will be more likely that larger goals will be attainable in the future.

2. Set short-term goals for long-term results

Jeanette Pavini, author and investigative reporter, adds this valuable tip: “People who break their resolutions into small, manageable chunks typically have more success. Say your goal is to save money. Rather than making a resolution to save $5,000 this year, try to save $100 a week. It’s almost the same amount of money (a little more actually), yet the goal is easier to keep. You’re able to measure your progress along the way and all you have to think about is that $100 each week, not that insurmountable $5,000.”

If you’re on a tighter budget, make a commitment to save $20 a week. Whatever seems reasonably attainable, go for it!

3. Be sensitive to your breaking point

Dr. Sarah Mahoney points out that being aware of your personal breaking point is a necessary part of finding success in your goals. She states that “The same way a sprinter can tell when she doesn’t have another 100 yards in her, it’s important to know when your resistance is tapped out. Stress will wear you down. So will being hungry or tired.” Her advice for those times: “Get away from whatever is tempting you until you’ve eaten and rested, which will give your willpower a fighting chance.”

4. Schedule time for your resolution

Your schedule will obviously depend on what your resolution is, but you typically need to set aside time to have a chance of success. For example, if your goal is to walk twice a week outdoors, you’ll need to put it on a calendar and make sure you stick to it. Set an alarm that periodically reminds you to stick to your schedule. 

5. Use the buddy system

Teaming up with a friend who shares your goals, is a great way to increase your chances of success. Say you want to save more money and stick to a budget. Challenge a friend. Plan meals around store ads, clip coupons and then compare receipts and see who saved the most. Although this is not always workable, it is a way in which to stay accountable with someone who has the same financial or health goals as you and will nudge you towards keeping your commitment.

6. Write it down

Write down your goal and visualize it regularly. These are effective tools for fulfilling a goal because they fix it firmly in the subconscious,” says Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you write down your goals, put them in a prominent place where you’ll view them frequently, such as on the fridge or on your desk. One good idea is to keep them as a screen saver on your computer, that way, you will have a constant reminder.

7. Reassess your resolutions

Giving up on your resolutions is not always a bad thing. If your goal was not realistic or even practical, you may need to modify your resolution. Resolutions are all about becoming a better version of yourself, not a perfect version of yourself. For example, if you’re not able to save $100 a week, oh well! Knock it down to $75 and keep trying. That’s still $3,900 saved by the end of the year and that’s something to be proud of.

8. Forgiving yourself

Don’t beat yourself up if you have a few setbacks. If you fall off the wagon, jump back on. Many people fall into the trap of believing that if they stumble, they should give up. The truth is you don’t have to wait for next year or for some magic moment to try again. Instead, realize that slipping is part of the process.

9. Make time for a cheat day

Willpower is a limited resource. It’s important to give it a break from to time by enjoying a cheat day. Use it to replenish your willpower and reward yourself for all your hard work. Just don’t take too many of these!

10. Dream big, but start with small gradual changes

If you’re going to set a New Year resolution, you might as well go big. Quitting smoking is a popular one, but it is also one of the hardest to kick. Hard goals become more manageable when you start with small, gradual changes. For example, if you’re trying to give up smoking, quit one cigarette at a time. It may take the entire year to get down to 5 cigarettes a day, but it will be worth the journey.

11. Define SMART goals

When choosing a New Year resolution, choose goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-specific. These types of goals have a greater chance of being accomplished. Here is how you create SMART goals. Ask yourself these five questions: Who: Who is involved in this goal? What: What do I want to accomplish? Where: Where is this goal to be achieved? When: When do I want to achieve this goal? Why: Why do I want to achieve this goal?

For example, a general goal would be “I want to get in shape.” A more specific goal would be I want to obtain a gym membership at my local community center and work out four days a week to be healthier.

To read more about setting SMART goals, read this article.

12. Lift your spirit

Dr. Sarah Mahoney encourages people to lift their spirits within the task of following through on New Year’s resolutions. “Watching funny movies — or doing just about anything that puts you in a good mood — also helps when willpower starts wearing down.

In a particularly sneaky study, researchers asked a group of 30 hungry students to sit in a room that smelled like freshly baked cookies. Although a plate of M&Ms and still-warm cookies was placed within reach, participants were told to snack on a bowl of radishes. Then they were left alone for 10 to 12 minutes to exhaust their self-restraint. Next, some of the students watched a film clip of Robin Williams doing stand-up, while another group viewed a film about dolphins. When, in the last part of the experiment, they were asked to perform a complex tracing project that called for lots of self-control, students who’d seen the funny film stuck with the trying task for about 13 minutes. The Flipper crowd hung in for only nine.” In other words, it’s essential to keep your sense of humor.

13. Encourage yourself

Discouragement is normal when you’re trying to change deeply ingrained habits. Become a positive coach, and continually give yourself positive feedback, praise, and recognition. Look for small signs of improvement and celebrate them. If you have low self-esteem, you may talk yourself out of your desires and think you lack the skill, worth, or ability to achieve them. Underlying depression does the same thing. Self-doubt and negative self-talk paralyze you in a past expression of yourself. They sap energy and motivation, and can easily persuade you to give up. If you aren’t making progress or if you slip into old habits, don’t dwell on your’ mistake.’ Rather than stay stuck in self-judgment and guilt, admit what you did or didn’t do, and quickly get back on track.

14. Heighten self-awareness

Another great tip is to heighten your self-awareness. People often seek therapy to raise their self-esteem or overcome addictions and codependency. If you resolve to change your habits, self-awareness and vigilance are needed to interrupt old patterns. Daily meditation and journaling are powerful tools in monitoring and changing your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

15. Break it up

Dr. Sarah Mahoney gives us wisdom for the long haul. Mahoney states, “Since your supply of self-control is finite, make resolutions that require small acts of will, not weeks of vigilance. Losing 10 pounds sounds specific, but it’s less likely to work than behavioral goals like saying, “this week I’ll try to go to the gym three times, take the stairs at work at least twice, and bring a healthy lunch every day.” You’ll feel good when you accomplish each goal, and your success will help bolster your resolve. The better you are at making small changes, the easier it will be for you to keep going.”