Fed up of making New Year’s resolutions and not achieving them?
Although we’ve all heard the saying that most people have given up on their resolutions by February, don’t give up hope. One study showed that people who make resolutions are actually 10 times more likely to change their behaviour than people who don’t! (Norcross et al 2002)
Here are some tips that might help.
1. Focus on one resolution at a time
- How many of us have decided we’re going to “get healthy” in the New Year by changing absolutely everything at once? We’re going to get to the gym regularly, eat well, give up drinking, and so on.
- While there may be lots of things you want to work on and create resolutions for, concentrate on changing one thing at a time. Studies suggest that this approach is more likely to be successful (Dalton & Spiller, 2012; Verhoeven et al, 2013).
- Trying to change too much at once can be daunting, and if you find yourself not achieving the dramatic changes you set out for yourself, this can make you feel worse.
- Remember that the New Year isn’t the only time you can make changes. Imagine if you set yourself small, achievable goals throughout the year. For example, you might want to work on adding a new habit every 3 months. By the end of the year, you’ll have 4 new and well-established habits!
2. Break it down
- Once you’ve identified what you want to work on, for example “lose weight”, break it down by making it S.M.A.R.T.
- Specific - your goal should be really clear. Make your goal as specific as you can. Instead of “I want to lose weight”, think about how much weight you want to lose and in what time. This will help you think about what you need to do in order to achieve it.
- Measurable - you should be able to measure your progress against the goal. How will you know you are making progress?
- Achievable - make sure your goal is something you can actually achieve. Is telling yourself you’re going to go to the gym 5 days a week when you’re currently not going at all truly achievable? Aim for change that is achievable for you. If your goal is to eat healthier, make this a gradual change. For example, start by replacing unhealthy snacks with more nutritious ones. Then once you’ve achieved that, you can move on to another area of your diet, for example eating more vegetables with each meal or cutting down on takeaways.
- It can be really helpful to break your big goal down into smaller goals, for example going to the gym twice a week for the first month, or losing one pound a week or replacing one cup of coffee with a glass of water. You can slowly work your way up to bigger changes. Make these steps as specific as possible too. These smaller goals might not seem like much at first, but they increase your likelihood of sticking to them and being successful with your long-term goal.
- Relevant - make sure your goal is relevant to your life now, your values and your priorities. This might sound obvious, but think about your reasons for wanting to change. Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons? It can be really helpful to write down your reasons for making a change. You can come back to these when you are feeling unmotivated.
- Time-bound - set a date for when you want to have achieved your goal. Remember this has to be realistic too! Think about different, smaller time limits for your smaller goals.
- Make sure you write down a detailed plan. Consider the following questions:
- What steps do I need to take to reach my goal?
- What resources do I need to achieve my goal?
- What problems or difficulties might I encounter and how can I overcome them? Are there any obstacles to achieving my goal? Try to anticipate any potential problems and write down some possible solutions or ways you can minimise them.
3. Reward yourself
- This is the fun part! Think of small ways in which you can reward yourself after you achieve each milestone of your goal. This could be enjoying a long bubble bath, something nice to eat, a massage, reading a new book, etc. Make sure it’s something that feels like a treat and that you’ll look forward to.
- Also, make sure you recognise any early signs of improvement as you work towards your goal and celebrate them. Write them down. What might you expect to be different? For example, if your goal is to improve your fitness, this might include being less breathless going up and down stairs, or being able to run for longer.
4. Don't go it alone
- Let supportive friends and family know what your resolution is and what your goals are. Not only does this keep you accountable, but they could also provide crucial support and motivation.
- Perhaps you could create a buddy system with a friend who has also made a New Year’s resolution. You can check in on each other’s progress and support each other through any rough patches. For example, if your goal is to drink more water, you could partner up with a colleague at work to remind each other!
- You might want to join a group to help you with your goals, for example a group exercise class at your gym or a group of colleagues who are also quitting smoking.
- You don’t even need to share the same goals. Just having someone to support and encourage you can make a big difference.
5. Setbacks are not failures
- It’s likely you’ll experience setbacks on the way to achieving your goal. It’s important to recognise this from the beginning.
- Many people give up on their resolutions because they come across a setback. When this inevitably happens, remind yourself that one setback doesn’t get rid of all the progress you have made before. That still happened! Remind yourself of the progress and achievements you have made so far.
- Also, think about what caused the setback or lapse. You might find it helpful to write this down. What is working and what isn’t? What is making things more difficult and how can you deal with these? What can you do differently next time?
- You might need to be flexible with the goal itself. Is the timeframe not realistic for you? Is the goal too ambitious? Does the goal need breaking down further into smaller steps?
- Reframe your thinking. Try to view setbacks as opportunities to learn, not reasons to give up. Be patient and kind with yourself and remember that change is a process that takes time, and there will be ups and downs along the way.
- It usually takes months for a habit to become automatic. One study by Lally et al (2009) found that it takes about 66 days on average to form a new habit like going for a daily run or eating a piece of fruit each day. They also found that missing one opportunity to perform the habit behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process.
If you found this article helpful, you might want to check out this video on psychology hacks to help make your resolutions stick.
Good luck and have a Happy New Year from all of us at Keeping Well BLMK!
Remember, Keeping Well is here to support you with your wellbeing goals. Please get in touch if you would like support. You can message us on our live chat, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 01908 724 227. You can also request a call back or submit a self-referral form.
- Dalton, A. N., & Spiller, S. A. (2012). Too Much of a Good Thing: The Benefits of Implementation Intentions Depend on the Number of Goals. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(3), 600–614. doi.org/10.1086/664500
- Foreman, I. E., & Pollard, C. (2016). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Your Toolkit to Modify Mood, Overcome Obstructions and Improve Your Life. Icon Books.
- Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998–1009. doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.674
- Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M. D. (2002). Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397–405. doi.org/10.1002/jclp.1151
- Verhoeven, A. A. C., Adriaanse, M. A., de Ridder, D. T. D., de Vet, E., & Fennis, B. M. (2013). Less is more: The effect of multiple implementation intentions targeting unhealthy snacking habits. European Journal of Social Psychology, 43(5), 344–354. doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.1963
- APA - New year resolutions
- Forbes - How to stick to your new years resolution for 2021
- Health Harvard - Seven steps for making your new years resolutions stick
- Mental Floss - 10 scientifically proven ways to stick to your new years resolutions
- Very Well Mind - How to keep your New Year's resolutions
Updated on: 21/04/2022