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The Secrets of Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions

Are you tired of your New Year’s Resolutions fizzling out every single year? It’s no secret that sticking to New Year’s Resolutions is tough. In fact, about 80 percent of them fail, most by mid-February. It’s not that you don’t want to change, or that you don’t have the motivation or the self-discipline to change, it’s about changing habits, which is always hard. If you are ready to make a lasting change in your life there are some things that you can do to make sticking to New Year’s Resolutions a reality this year.

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What Exactly Is a New Year’s Resolution and How Did They Start?

A resolution is a firm decision to do something or not to do something. According to history, it actually started about 4,000 years ago with the ancient Babylonians. Regardless of its origins, I always view the start of a new year, (and new decade this year) like a clean slate full of possibilities. It’s an opportunity to start something fresh, continue a good habit and grow in whatever way that I decide that I want to.

Are New Year’s Resolutions Good?

This one is largely a matter of personal opinion, but I do think that the desire to change and better ourselves is good. Beating yourself up over not sticking to New Year’s resolutions is not so good. The wording can make a lot of difference. Concentrate on the little habits that you want to change and make them specific. Instead of “I want to be a better parent.” Make it something that you can measure, and give yourself grace if it’s not perfect every time.

We could re-word “I want to be a better parent.” to “I will spend alone time with each one of my kids once a month.” Or “I will not yell at the kids more than once a week.” Each of those has a time frame and is very specific. One is something that you want to do, and the other is something that you don’t want to do. I suggest stating your New Years Resolutions as positive things.

Are Resolutions Goals?

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Resolutions are made up of smaller goals, but they are not goals themselves. A resolution is just a decision. A very common New Years Resolution that people have a hard time sticking to, is “I will lose weight.” Anyone that’s ever been on a weight loss journey before knows that it’s a lot easier said than done. In order to have the best chance of sticking to a New Year’s resolution like that, you need to break it down into actionable steps. Try to just change one thing at a time. It could be “I will eat five servings of vegetables per day.” or “I will drink 8 cups of water at least 5 days a week.” Those are goals because they have a specific, measurable action and a time frame.

Will you nail it each and every week. No, you won’t. Life happens. However, these are little things that can become habits over a period of time. Once you get one down for a month and you feel like it’s a pretty well-established habit, then add another. Do not try to change 10 things at once. That’s one of the major reasons that New Years Resolutions don’t stick – people try to make drastic changes.

Want a step walkthrough of setting goals, breaking them down, and some powerful motivation strategies? Check out my new course, Questing for Self Motivation to Achieve Your Personal Goals!

Why Do Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail?

There are many reasons that people find sticking to New Year’s resolutions too hard to follow through on. If you do a google search, there are some pretty harsh thoughts on why they are no good at all. However, I don’t think they are all bad. Sticking to New Year’s resolutions is hard, but it can be done. There’s actually a lot of science behind why they don’t stick. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Most New Year’s Resolutions don’t stick because:

  • You try to make drastic changes all at once
  • They are something that you feel like you need to do or that’s expected, but not something that you personally care about.
  • You have not defined WHY you want to make the resolution in the first place.
  • You look at the gap between where you are and where you want to be and allow yourself to dwell on it and get discouraged.
  • The time frame is too long – let’s face it – a year is a long time!
  • You do not attach the small change you want to make to something that you already do.
  • It’s not easy.
  • You don’t see yourself as someone that completes the resolution you are going after. (ex – I hate exercising. I’m always going to be a smoker. etc.)

What are the Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions?

According to, the most popular New Year’s Resolutions for last year were:

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  • Dieting or healthier eating habits
  • Exercising
  • Losing weight
  • Saving more money (and/or spending less)
  • Learning something new (skill or hobby)
  • Stop smoking
  • Reading more
  • Changing jobs or careers
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Spending more time with family

Most of the top New Years Resolutions don’t change from year to year. People are still trying to improve the same things about themselves.

What Are Good New Years Resolutions?

Sticking to New Year’s resolutions starts with a good resolution. It has to have some personal meaning to you. You need to have a “WHY” behind the change that you are trying to make. Good New Year’s resolutions that you can stick to are specific, actionable, measurable, and timely. (Yes, you might recognize the SMART goal formula there.) They also need to be broken down into small easy actions that help you get to one overall big goal. Here are some examples of good new year’s resolutions that you can stick to, as well as how to break them down into smaller actionable steps:

  • Drink more water – Drink 8 cups of water at least 5 days a week.
  • Become more aware of negative thoughts – Start a journal and write in it at least twice a week.
  • Save more money – Save $20 per week for 3 months. (that’s $360!)
  • Exercise more – Go for a 20-minute walk 3 times per week.
  • Learning something new – purchase an online course and spend 10 minutes a day on it.
  • Reading more – spend 15 minutes a day reading after I do ___. (Anchor it to an activity that you already do.)

Still need more ideas? Good Housekeeping’s List of 45 Achievable New Years Resolutions

9 Tips for Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions

1. Specifically, Identify What You Want to Change.

In order to stick with your New Year’s Resolution, you first need to specifically identify what needs to be changed.  It is hard to fix something if you don’t know that it is need of repair.  If you have already made a New Year’s Resolution, good for you!  It is good to reflect on what we have learned and to try to better ourselves.  We become better stronger, better and more patient versions of ourselves through experiences.  There is only one way to get experience. That is to go out and do something!  You will not get experience sitting at home and not trying.  It is always better to try something new than to not try.

2. Realize that Stretching Your Comfort Zones is Scary, Especially at First, But That’s Where You Grow.

I heard Steve Harvey once say that if there is something that you really love or that you want to do, if it is worth doing it involves some risk. He likened it to skydiving.  It is scary at first!  When you first make that plunge, there is some time that you are free falling. Your parachute does not open right away.  You have taken the plunge, and you wonder “oh my gosh, WHAT have I done??  What in the WORLD was I thinking???”

But then, your parachute opens and you are glad that you have made the jump because it is life-changing. You are looking at a view that you might have thought you would never see and it is beautiful.  If you never jump, you will be safe. You will have never left the safety of the airplane, BUT you will always wonder “what if”? And if you stay on the plane, your parachute will never open.

That was a pretty powerful story to me.  It is one that has stuck with me.  My husband and I have had to step out on faith a time or two and let me tell you, it’s HARD.  There is always some risk involved.  Every time, it has changed our lives, and we have been glad that we have jumped.  For us, jumping involves a lot of praying and listening for answers.  God’s way is always the best way, and he will always catch you when you fall.

3. Set Realistic Goals, Write them down, and Share Them

Sticking to New Years Resolutions involves making them into goals with actionable steps.  You are 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down. Additionally sharing your goals with others adds accountability.

We get a feel-good confidence boost every time we complete a goal. Don’t make them impossible to reach!  Instead, break your big goal down into smaller segments that are easier.  Set yourself up for success!

Related:  The Best Yearly Goal Planner To Slay Your Goals

Free Quiz to Find Out What Your New Year’s Resolution Should Be.

4. Positive Self-talk and Believing in Yourself Makes Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions Easier

How you talk to yourself is key to sticking to New Year’s resolutions. Why would you try sticking to a New Years Resolution that you didn’t believe that you could do in the first place? Encourage yourself every time you do something that lines up with your New Year’s resolution. When you tell yourself, “I can do this.”  And “You did great on this step towards your goal today! You are going to make it!” our brains start to believe that!  Positive self-talk gives us the motivation that we need to accomplish our goals in our New Year’s resolutions.  The best part about that is that when you use positive self-talk, the motivation sticks because it’s internal.  We are not dependent on someone else encouraging us because we are encouraging ourselves.

How to Cultivate Postive Thoughts

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5. Silence Your Inner Critic that is Making Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions Impossible

On the flip side of the coin, I once had a New Year’s resolution to drop a few pounds and watch what I ate and exercise more.  That is a pretty common goal, I think, but I did it all wrong.  For one thing on the goal setting, I was vague.  There was no way to measure it.  What I really did to sabotage myself was my self-talk.  Every morning, I would look at myself in the mirror and think “I am so fat and ugly. This extra weight has got to go.”  After I had beaten myself up for 5-10 mins, then I would get in the shower.    I did work out some, but workouts are not terribly effective if you half kill yourself only a few times out of guilt.

Every time I ate, I would tell myself “You are such a pig. Don’t eat so much and you would not be in this place to start with.”  Ouch.  No one else would DARE talk to me like that! But I did to myself all the time. Every. Single. Day.  Do you know what happened?  I would get to feeling so bad about myself that I would raid the fridge and pig out and eat all this high-calorie food in an emotional eating fest. Needless to say, I gave up after less than a month.

Silence that inner critic that keeps berating you. What it is really doing is sabotaging your efforts. Focus on the positive and praise yourself when you take a step in the right direction. You will not do everything perfectly and that’s ok. Give yourself grace when you mess up, and keep trying.

Related: Build Your Motivational Skills

10 Powerful Self-Motivation Techniques

The Best Advice for Silencing the Inner Critic

6. Think of it as something for yourself

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When I tried again with a resolution to start exercising more, I started thinking of my walks as a time for myself.  As a mother, and as a person, I am constantly trying to “give back.”  I am trying to pour something of myself into serving someone else in some way.  I think that most mothers, especially do this, or anyone trying to take care of someone else.  The problem is that we can’t pour out of an empty cup.  We all need to recharge.  We all need time to unwind and to do something for ourselves.  Think of the time that you spend chasing after that resolution as a time for yourself or something for yourself.

Sometimes, those walks that I took were early in the morning when my toddler was bouncing off the WALLS at 7 in the morning.  He had a little balance bike that he would ride while I walked.  He enjoyed it, and so did I.  I got to think my own thoughts while he was happily running off steam.  (It also helped him nap really nicely in the afternoons. Bonus!!)  If you think of it as something for yourself it will become something that you look forward to doing instead of something that you have to do.

You are worth something. Your happiness is worth something.  It is ok and even vital that you do something that recharges your batteries.

Related: Why You Need to Invest Time in Self-Care

33 Practical Ways to Fill your Cup When Life Gets Hard

7. Realize that you can only change yourself

Your New Year’s Resolution should be personal. It should be something about you.  If you have made a resolution to “Make So-And-So do THIS”, then please, ABORT MISSION!  It is doomed to fail.  Regroup and make a different resolution.  You do not have the power to change other people.  Only God can do that. You only have the power to change yourself.  A New Year’s resolution should be something personal. It should be something about YOU.  It should be a change that you want to make to better YOURSELF because it matters to YOU.

You cannot control the actions of other people. You cannot control the feelings of other people. The choices that other people make are their choices, just as your choices are your own.  Work on changing yourself and making better choices.  Find something personal to you that makes you happier.

Related: 5 Tips For Setting Personal Boundaries

8. Time Management

Now that you have made your New Year’s resolution, you have specifically identified what you want to change, you have written down a realistic personal goal, and you are using positive self-talk to make it stick and thinking of it as something for yourself, there is only one question that remains. How do you find time to fit it into your already packed schedule?

If your schedule is that packed and you are that busy, you may already have an idea of how you are going to fit this in because odds are, you are probably pretty good at the time management thing already.  If you have made the commitment to do this, then you will find time to fit it in if you have decided to make it a priority and you are enjoying making progress towards your goal.

Best Illustration of Effective time management

The best thing that I have ever seen on time management was actually when I was in college.  My professor came in with an empty jar and several other same sized jars that had different things in them. First, she took a jar of large rocks and put them in the empty jar.  And asked us if it was full? To which we replied “yes.”  Then she took the same sized jar full of smaller rocks and poured them into the jar with the big rocks.  Much to our surprise, they all fit.  She again asked us if the jar was full, to which we replied “yes.”  Then, she took a jar full of sand and again poured it into the jar with the large and small rocks. Much to our surprise, all the sand fit too.

She then explained to us that the once empty jar symbolized our time.  The big rocks were the most important things in our lives, like our families and our college classes.  The smaller rocks were all the other tasks that we had to get done, such as the laundry, our homework, and various other tasks.  The sand was all the other little things.  She said that if the sand was put in first, the big rocks would not all fit, however, like our time, if we put the big rocks in first, all the other things would fall into place. It was about prioritizing.  Your New Year’s resolution is the same; it is about prioritizing the important things in your life into the proper places.

Related: Stay on Task and Focused With These 5 Quick Tips

What is a Future Goals List and Why Do I Need One?

Boost Your Productivity With Time Blocking

How to Overcome Procrastination and Laziness

9. Sticking New Year’s Resolutions Still Too Hard? Choose One Word!

Sometimes things like formal goal setting might not appeal to us. While I love setting goals and achieving them, it is possible to overwhelm yourself with goals as well. While I do have many goals this year, what I have decided to do instead is to choose one word as a theme for the upcoming year. All my goals will relate to that one word. If you find yourself discouraged about sticking to New Year’s resolutions, you might consider picking one word. That one word cannot be “broken” and there is no pass or fail. This can help to alleviate stress if you feel yourself being overwhelmed by a formal resolution.

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My word for 2020 is GROW. I want to grow in a great many things this year, including (but not limited to):

  • this blog
  • expanding into online course creation
  • my personal development knowledge
  • in my relationship with my husband and kids
  • my relationship with God

My goals will all be centered around this one word. Some other popular words are:

  • Optimistic
  • Faith
  • Persistence
  • Grace
  • Forgiveness
  • Breathe
  • Authentic

The Last Thing You Need to Know About Sticking to New Years Resolutions

Most people give up on their resolutions and on themselves too quickly.  I find that very sad.  I know that you can do it this year, even if you have not in years past.  The only way we get experience is by going out and doing!  Do not be afraid to try over and over.  If you do not reach your goal on the first try, that is ok!  We make mistakes in order to learn from them.  Life is a learning process!  Give yourself permission to make mistakes.  If your New Year’s resolution is something that you really feel is worth pursuing, don’t give up on it!  I know that you can do it.  Go make this year, one of your best ones yet! Do you have a New Year’s Resolution or one word for 2020? Leave me a comment below!

3 thoughts on “The Secrets of Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. I am personally not a big fan of resolutions, but I understand the concept behind them. I personally think everyday and year is an opportunity to be better than you were before without a set resolution persay.

    1. Hi Mariah. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I think resolutions do help some people because it gives them a goal and a direction. It’s a good way to move forward. However, many people want to make drastic changes all at once, and that sets them up for not being successful. To me, goals are not always a pass/fail thing, they are meant to be adjusted as you go along. If I want to exercise 3X a week for my new years resolution, but I’m already doing it 2Xs a week, that’s a pretty easy change. If I want to go from doing nothing to exercising 3Xs a week, drinking a gallon of water a day, and doing a half-marathon in March, that’s a bit much for most people. If you do not like resolutions, but still like the idea of improving yourself, try setting an intention with a single word or phrase like “grow” or “choose joy.” Thank you for your very helpful feedback! You can see more about intentions and goals here:

  2. Increase the Chance of Reaching Your New Year’s Goals

    Hey! Thank you for sharing this wonderful blog with us. I would like to add that its important to take a good hard look at what it is that you want to change about yourself. Is it a realistic goal or is it just something you beat yourself up about? We don’t always have to be striving for perfection or feel like we’re a work in progress.

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