According to new research, only 12% of people manage to stick to their resolutions over the course of a single year.
The message is clear: change is hard.
But not impossible!
In this article, I’ll be going over everything you need to know to help you finally conquer your resolutions and start becoming the best version of yourself.
Let’s dive in.
Why Do New Year’s Resolutions Fail?
You Set Unrealistic and Vague Goals
“Lose weight.” “Quit smoking.” “Drink less alcohol.” These are just some of the more common goals set by resolutioners year after year. Notice anything they have in common?
Most New Year’s resolutions are vague and outcome-focused instead of detailed and process-oriented.
In other words, a goal like “losing weight” isn’t something you just do.
For most of us, it’s a massive challenge that often involves a complete overhaul of our lifestyle, habits, and even cognitive thinking abilities.
And we often underestimate the “complete overhaul” part. Real goals worthy of pride take time and effort.
Don’t underestimate this.
You Don’t Keep Track of Your Goals
Change can be addicting… but do you visualize it?
Because New Year’s resolutions tend to involve change that’s slow and gradual, we often can’t see it—it’s too small.
That’s why it’s so important to keep a record of your progress.
Whether it’s losing weight or cutting down on your number of weekly drinks, there are so many apps out there, like Habit Forest or Habitica, that not only allow you to effortlessly log your progress but also plot it out for you.
Even if you slip up every now and then, being able to zoom out and see yourself slowly but surely trending upward or downward over time will do wonders for your motivation!
You Don’t Have a Purpose
Let me guess: One of your previous New Year’s resolutions was “get a six-pack.”
But what for?
Just to impress your friends? Because people tell you to? Because you saw some bikini model on a billboard?
Most people don’t spend enough time focusing on the why of the change they want to make.
According to a psychological theory called the “transtheoretical model of change,” there are six steps to implementing lasting behavioral change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination.
Let’s focus on the first three steps here, which serve as the prerequisites for action (and the why part of change):
- During precontemplation, individuals have no intention of changing, often failing to recognize the negative impact of their own behavior. Luckily, since you’re making a resolution, you’re already past this stage.
- In the contemplation stage, individuals recognize that their behavior is problematic and begin to thoughtfully mull over the pros and cons of implementing change. It’s likely if you’ve made a resolution and never fulfilled it, this is the stage you were in.
- During the preparation stage, individuals are fully committed to change and begin to carry out the steps necessary for it. This step involves a lot more time than most people commit—which is why most people fail.
Without spending time in the critical third stage of change (as is often the case when we arbitrarily set big goals for ourselves on New Year’s), we’re setting ourselves up for failure before we even begin!
You Set Too Many Goals
When you’re amped up on that New Year’s optimism, it may be tempting to envision yourself changing every negative aspect of your life all at once—but research shows that this isn’t very conducive to success.
For example, you might want to lose weight, change your career, move to a new home, and read 40 books—but who’s got time for all that?
To give yourself the best chance of success, don’t spread yourself too thin. Focus on one major goal and channel all your energy into that.
11 Tips to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
OK, so now you know a little of why people fail.
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to achieve your goals!
Try setting the absolute smallest goal you can think of—just one tiny step toward your bigger goal.
For example, let’s say your resolution is to “read more,” but you haven’t read a book since you were 16.
Jumping straight into Dostoevsky probably wouldn’t be a good idea (i.e., it’s probably not realistic and will cause you to give up).
Instead, a micro-goal could be something along the lines of “Read 2 pages of that dusty old copy of The Catcher in the Rye sitting on my bookshelf.”
Literally so simple, it would only take you five minutes (or less!) to do.
Once you accomplish that one micro-goal, start on the next one.
And the next. (Get the idea here?)
Gradually ramp things up as you get more comfortable.
Alternatively, you could just jump into the best self-help books out there—and perhaps change your life along the way! Read on: The Best Self-Help Books to Boost Self-Esteem.
Make SMART goals
SMART—a popular mnemonic for best goal-setting practices—stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based.” This is a great framework to apply when you’re past the micro-goal stage and want to create real, achievable goals.
To start, be as specific as possible. Instead of “lose weight,” how much weight do you want to lose to get to your target? How much time do you think it would take?
If you want to lose weight, you might ask yourself these questions:
- “Am I going to start doing more cardio? If so, what kind and how often?”
- “Am I going to start cooking more often instead of eating out? If so, what dishes am I going to make?”
- “How often will I let myself have a cheat meal?”
- “Am I going to take an online fitness class or go to the gym?”
- “How many days a week will I exercise?”
Then, after answering your questions, create SMART goals:
- for one week, start every morning by running for 10 minutes
- cook vegan food 3 days per week
- have a cheat meal twice a month
- start a new gym membership at Science Gym
- go to spinning class 4 times a week
Once you’ve set your SMART goals, you’ll be one step closer to achieving the big one. Oh yeah, and if you need extra help with that…
Find your purpose
What’s the “why” behind your “what”?
Do you have an implicit motivation for, say, wanting to read more, or are you just aimlessly telling yourself to because you’ve seen a few ads about how successful CEOs read a lot of books?
Spend some time thinking about your desires and motivations. How exactly would reading benefit your life? Maybe your line of work values verbal fluency and a large vocabulary. Maybe you want to spend more time away from screens. Maybe you just want to be a more cultured, well-rounded person.
There’s no right or wrong answer here—however, I personally like to create only the best goals that will make me the best version of myself.
And if you’ve ever read Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why, you know how important it is to know your motivations before jumping headfirst into a goal.
Check out Simon’s TED Talk here for some golden nuggets of wisdom:
Chase, don’t be chased
Research has shown that approach-oriented goals (i.e., goals that involve actively doing something, such as going to the gym) tend to have higher success rates than avoidance-oriented goals (i.e., goals that involve not doing something, such as quitting alcohol).
Instead of running from a goal, focus on chasing one.
For example, if you’re a working professional looking to be more effective in the office, you could change “I will avoid letting my inbox pile up” to “I will respond to emails immediately.”
Or if you’re looking to kick that bad 10-bottles-of-kombucha-a-day habit, don’t be chased by “Don’t drink so much kombucha”—instead, chase “Drink only 2 bottles of kombucha a day.”
Think of your goal as something you actively pursue—and your results will change drastically!
Log your progress
As I mentioned earlier, seeing your progress over time can be a great motivator to stick with your resolutions.
You can do this either physically (e.g., in a notebook) or digitally (e.g., in an Excel/Google Sheets spreadsheet).
And don’t worry if you’re not a computer whiz; logging your stats doesn’t need to be complicated.
All you really need is a column for the date and another for whatever you’re tracking (e.g., weight, calorie intake, number of pages read, etc.).
So it’ll look something like this:
|Day||Emails in inbox at 3 p.m.|
If you want to simplify the process even more, there are plenty of apps out there that will automatically graph out your numbers after you log them, such as Notion.
Change the date
If you think about it, committing to change on New Year’s Day is both weirdly specific and kind of arbitrary.
Like, do we really need to start on the same day as everyone else? Imagine if everyone’s birthday were the same as yours…
On a practical level, New Year’s is a day like any other.
Let’s say you’re a student studying during New Year’s, for example. You’re overwhelmed with tests and presentations, and you’re filled to your mental brim.
Instead of starting toward your goals on January 1, a better idea would be to start in the summer, when you have more free time and more free mental bandwidth.
Ultimate life hack—score!
The same applies if you’re a working professional—although you probably aren’t lucky enough to have entire summers off, there are surely times when you have more downtime and aren’t scrambling to meet a deadline.
Consider your life and your career, and try to implement change around those.
Have an accountability appointment
Researchers found that individuals’ success rate of completing a goal changed depending on the actions they took:
- having an idea or goal: 10% likely to complete the goal
- consciously deciding to do it: 25%
- deciding when to do it: 40%
- planning how to do it: 50%
- promising someone that it will get done: 65%
- setting a specific accountability appointment with someone: 95%
Obviously, you want that 95% success rate, right?
This means looking someone dead in the eyes and saying, “I’m going to achieve this goal.”
Start by telling a few close friends or family members and asking them to periodically follow up with you on your goals. Or find someone to do it with you (e.g., a gym partner).
Better yet, go the extreme route and use a sick accountability app like StickK so you really have some skin in the game.
You can even put together a like-minded group of powerful people in your very own mastermind—I highly recommend this route to dominate business goals!
Keep your goals to yourself
OK, I know I just recommended that you tell people about your goals in the tip above, but hear me out: telling a select group of close friends and family members to help keep you accountable is very different from telling literally everyone.
Research has shown that the latter actually decreases success rates by giving one a “premature sense of completion.”
That is, hearing other people’s approval about your goals makes you feel almost as if you’ve already accomplished them, making you less motivated to actually follow through.
You know what they say: actions speak louder than words.
Keep your head down, work hard, and the results will eventually speak for themselves.
And while you’re at it, check out this other amazing TED Talk on why you should keep your goals to yourself:
Fall in love with the process
No matter how motivated you are to do something, it can be hard if you just don’t enjoy it.
For example, in this study on wealth,
- 96% of the poor did not like what they did for a living
- 86% of the rich liked what they did for a living
- 7% of the rich loved what they did for a living
For the rich, work is fun. They’ll work more hours simply because they love it—and the more people love their job, the more money they make.
Conversely, less successful people tend to view their work as a chore.
“Ugh, I have to work more” versus “This work is exciting!”
If you don’t like your job, that’s not an immediate reason to quit; however, keep in mind your success is correlated to your level of enjoyment!
If you can fall in love with the process, meeting your goals will come naturally.
Forget the missteps
As Alfred once famously told a young Bruce Wayne, we fall “so that we can learn to pick ourselves up again.”
And pick himself up he did.
No true change will come about without at least some failure—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
In fact, I want you to embrace failure.
Because many of the greats failed…
- like Sir James Dyson, who had to tweak his bagless vacuum cleaner over 5,000 times
- or Steven Spielberg, who got rejected from college 3 times
- or even Abraham Lincoln, who lost 8 elections and failed at 2 businesses
Recognize that and you’ll find that for every one step you take backward, you’ll ultimately take two steps forward.
So keep a failure journal, be grateful for your successes, and keep on failing on!
Everything good in life comes from good sleep.
Indeed, neuroscientist and sleep researcher Matthew Walker has gone as far as to say that the negative effects of sleep deprivation rival those of smoking. Yikes!
In his critically acclaimed pop-science bestseller Why We Sleep, Walker summarizes the scientific community’s consensus on sleep, detailing how proper rest improves our hormonal functioning, physical recovery, cognitive sharpness, mental health, and everything in between.
Sleep is the fuel you need to tackle your New Year’s resolutions.
Once you understand the importance of sleep, connecting the dots to goal achievement is fairly intuitive.
If you want a promotion at work, you need to be mentally alert; good sleep helps with that. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less junk food; sleep deprivation leads to hormonal imbalances that cause you to make poor food choices.
Sleep literally controls everything.
Whatever your goals are, the takeaway is clear: being well rested will set you up with the physiological and psychological foundations for success!
Set a goal to go to sleep at a consistent time every night—and prioritize this so you can accomplish the rest of your resolutions!
The 50 Best New Year’s Resolution Ideas
Alright, so now that we know how to set ourselves up for success, what kind of resolutions can we apply our newfound knowledge toward?
Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
Watch a new documentary every week
I love learning about new things, but I don’t always want to read a whole book. So I try to watch one documentary every week on a totally different subject each time. Start with this list: 17 Best Documentaries on YouTube.
Eat more leafy greens
Did you know that only 9% of Americans meet the recommended daily intake of vegetables? Let’s bump that number up.
Read a book a month
Reading is good for your brain, improves your spoken and written communication abilities, and makes you more cultured and knowledgeable. There’s a reason so many successful CEOs are voracious readers!
Do your dishes as soon as you’re done eating
Imagine never having to see a pile of dirty dishes in the sink again!
Clean your room once a week
Your room is your sanctuary, so make sure it looks like one. It’ll do wonders for your mental health and productivity.
Spend less time on social media
Social media is, at best, a massive time sink. If you can’t cut it out completely, resolve to at least limit your time on it.
Put your phone away at least 30 minutes before going to bed
There’s an absolute trove of literature documenting how disruptive phone usage before bed is to your sleep. Read a book or meditate instead.
Go to the gym at least three times a week, every week
Health is wealth, so make it a priority. Three times a week is more than doable, even for the busiest of people.
Modern life can get pretty crazy sometimes. So many stimuli, so much stress. Take some time to zen out and center yourself.
Stretch for 10 minutes a day
If you work out a lot and/or spend most of your day slouched in front of your computer, you really need to be stretching. Your sore neck will thank you for it.
Take cold showers
Shock yourself awake, improve your immune system, and teach yourself to confront your fears and step out of your comfort zone. What’s not to love?
Pick up a recreational sport
Be it volleyball or badminton, recreational sports are a great alternative to get in your cardio while making some friends along the way.
Reach out to friends more often
Make it a priority to reach out to your friends more often; you might not realize how important it is. Even a simple text can go a long way! Make a list of the 3 people you wish you were closer to. Start with them!
Pick up an anti-boredom hobby
Wikipedia literally has a “List of hobbies” page with, like, a thousand different ideas. Life’s too short to waste it all on something unproductive. Check out this list of fun (yet productive) things to do when you’re bored.
Wake up at the same time every day
Waking up at the same time every day is awesome for stabilizing your circadian rhythm, which in turn is awesome for getting good sleep regularly, which in turn is awesome for literally everything else in life.
Stick to a bedtime
This goes hand in hand with #15.
Spread positivity, not negativity and gossip
Let’s be honest: No one wants to be around someone who’s constantly complaining or talking about others behind their backs. Learn to spread those positive vibes (without going into toxic positivity territory).
Your community will appreciate it more than you can imagine.
Do things quickly instead of procrastinating
The problem of procrastination is probably almost as prevalent as failing New Year’s resolutions. Kill two birds with one stone by finally conquering it this year.
Do a random act of kindness once a week
The world could always do with more kindness!
Bike to work instead of driving
This obviously isn’t feasible for everyone, but you should definitely consider it if you can! Not only is it great cardio, you’re also helping make the world an ever-so-slightly greener place.
Achieve inbox zero
Having a cluttered inbox is the digital equivalent of a messy room. Stay on top of it and your work life will be so much less stressful.
Say yes to every social invitation for 30 days
This one’s a challenge for all the introverts out there who crave social interaction but also fear it. Instead of declining invitations or making up lame excuses, try forcing yourself to say yes to everything and see how your life changes:
Take a vow of silence
Now here’s one for the extroverts. In a world that places so much value on the loudest person in the room, let’s try to lend an ear to the quiet ones sometimes. I took a vow of silence and it changed my life!
Drink water every day
Water is essential for life on Earth. Like sleep, staying hydrated will improve all aspects of your daily functioning. Get a water bottle that is the perfect size for how much water you should drink every day and empty it before bedtime!
Replace soda with sparkling water
Cutting out soda cold turkey can be difficult, so a good compromise is to start drinking sparkling water instead.
Strike up a conversation with a stranger every week
If you want to improve your social skills, striking up conversations with strangers is an easy way to do it. You’ll be surprised at how friendly most people are!
Create a morning routine
Having a structured morning routine is the best way to start your day off on the right foot. Pretty much every successful person in the world has some kind of morning routine, so there are a lot of ideas to borrow from. Examples include cold showers, meditation, and yoga.
Floss more often
No, not the dance move.
The thing your dentist keeps telling you to do but you keep putting off!
Keep a journal
Like meditating, journaling has been shown to have beneficial effects on your mental health. Journals also serve as pretty cool time capsules for you to look back on when you’re older.
Spend less $
All of us are guilty of wasting money on frivolous things. Cut back on unnecessary spending and watch that bank account grow.
Now take all that extra money you saved and invest it. Stocks, bonds, real estate, cryptocurrency, whatever. Then watch it grow some more.
Spend more time with your family
At the end of the day, there’s nothing more important in life than family. Take time out of your busy day to spend time with them.
Donate to charity
If you have the means, it’s always nice to give to the less fortunate.
Clear out your clutter and become a minimalist
Minimalism is super trendy these days, and for good reason: decluttering is great for your overall well-being.
Replace junk food snacks with healthy alternatives
Rather than simply cutting out chips and cookies altogether, try replacing them with healthy alternatives like trail mix, veggie chips, and granola bars.
Learn a new skill
Whether it’s DIY or coding, it’s never too late to get good at something new. You can even create a learning bucket list to master all the skills you want to learn!
Go on a digital detox
How often have you seen a social post and told yourself this is the last one but ended up spending hours browsing social media anyway? If it’s more often than you’d like to admit, a digital detox is perfect for you.
Cooking is not only healthier and cheaper than eating out, it’s also kind of an essential life skill, so if you still haven’t gotten around to learning it…
Keep a daily schedule and plan in advance
The most successful people in the world block out their days to a tee. Be like them.
Go on walks
Aside from its light cardio benefits, going on frequent walks (particularly through nature) has been shown to improve mental health and even cognitive ability.
Stay on top of your to-do list
To-do lists, like email inboxes, have a tendency to get out of hand. Learn to stay on top of yours and you’ll be a master of productivity.
Make coffee at home instead of buying out
This one is almost a meme in the world of financial advice, and rightfully so. You will save hundreds of dollars a year by doing this.
Though it may seem like you’re being productive, the science is clear that multitasking just makes you do everything poorly.
Step out of your comfort zone more often
Doing things that make us uncomfortable builds character. Scared of heights? Go book that bungee jump this year.
Develop a secondary source of income
Whether it’s freelancing, selling things on eBay, or making YouTube videos, there’s no shortage of ways to make some extra money on the side.
Be more assertive
If you’re quiet and introverted, chances are you struggle with speaking up for yourself sometimes. Make an effort to be more assertive.
Be more agreeable
On the flip side, if you’re someone who is very assertive, it’s possible that people find you overbearing and disagreeable sometimes. To find out your level of agreeableness, head on over to our Big 5 Quiz.
Let go of your past
Many of us are bogged down by trauma, regret, guilt, resentment, and all sorts of other negative emotions related to our past. Learn to be at peace with it so that you can live your life to the fullest in the moment.
Write down things you’re grateful for every day
Like journaling, spending time reflecting on what you’re grateful for is conducive to your mental well-being.
Believe in yourself!
This article may have started with some pretty bleak numbers, but statistics don’t define you.
If you truly want to change, I guarantee that you can find the motivation and willpower to do so.
Dig deep, consider some of the tips in this article, and, most importantly, believe in yourself.
Now, over to you! Follow the steps in this guide, and then head on over to this article if you’re really serious about stepping it up a notch: 5 Science Backed Steps to Setting and Achieving Your Goals.
You’ve got this!