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How to keep your New Year’s resolutions

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Setting resolutionsHow to keep resolutionsNot keeping resolutionsSummary
Setting SMART goals, getting support from loved ones, and making a realistic action plan may help you reach your goals in the new year. Exploring possible underlying causes of low motivation and difficulty managing impulses may also help.
Medically reviewed by Nicole Washington, DO, MPH
Updated on November 27, 2023

As a new year approaches, you may start thinking about goals and resolutions for the months ahead. 

Resolutions are promises you make to yourself to improve your life or the lives of others. They can be related to health, finances, relationships, school, work, and your inner world.

New Year’s resolutions can give you a sense of purpose and direction, help you focus on what’s important to you, and be your first step to making positive changes.

But often, as days pass and the hustle and bustle of living takes priority, New Year’s resolutions may slip away. Maintaining focus and momentum is critical to continue working on these goals. 

How to identify and set resolutions

Couple achieving New Year's resolutions of painting their home
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Before you can keep your New Year’s resolutions, you need to identify and set them. This preliminary work is essential to reaching your goals. The more time you spend identifying the correct goals for you, the more chance you have of keeping them.

Step 1: Reflect on the past year

Take time to reflect on the triumphs and challenges of the past year:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What happened that you didn’t anticipate?
  • How different are you today compared with a year ago?
  • What changes would you like to make in the coming year?
  • What would you like to keep working on? 

Step 2: Be picky with how you phrase your resolutions

How you phrase your goals and resolutions may affect how likely you are to stick with them. 

Turning an avoidance-based resolution into an actionable one can make it easier to stick with.

Here are some examples of transforming an avoidance goal into an approach goal:

  • “Stop sitting on the couch every day after work” becomes “Go for a daily walk after work.”
  • “Don’t eat fast food” becomes “Shop for nutritious groceries and make at least three home-cooked meals per week.”
  • “Watch less TV” becomes “Read one book per month.” 

Step 3: Set SMART goals

SMART goals increase the likelihood that your resolutions will be successful.

“SMART” stands for goals are: 

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • realistic
  • timed

For example, instead of saying, “Eat healthy,” you can set a SMART goal that states, “Eat at least two portions of fresh fruits or vegetables per day and eat homemade lunches at least three times per week.”

Writing New Year’s resolutions this way creates accountability and detail that can help keep you on track. You can measure how many fruits and vegetables you eat each day, then continue or readjust your goals accordingly. 

How to keep resolutions in the new year

Setting resolutions is one thing, but keeping them is another. Here are some tips to help you stay on track.

Start small

Try not to change everything at once. Start with one or two small changes and work your way up from there.

For example, if you have a medical condition and want to improve your overall health, setting many goals all at once around factors like exercise, diet, sleep, alcohol, medications, and stress may become overwhelming. 

Instead, start with one part, like following through with your medical treatment by using a reminder phone alarm or app. Then, after a few weeks or months, you can add another part, like reaching 10,000 steps each day or sticking with a sleep schedule. 

Make a plan

An action plan can help break down SMART goals and help you reach them. 

Try to consider three aspects of the plan:

  • when
  • how
  • where

This may help you identify the exact steps you need to take. 

Your plan can also address barriers and challenges you think you might face. For each of those, try to set a subplan of how to overcome them. 

For instance, if your SMART goal involves eating a more nutrient-dense diet and you know it’s difficult for you to manage late night cravings, establish that you will buy nutritious snack options only, brush your teeth early, and drink a glass of water. 

Track your progress

A 2016 analysis that included 138 studies suggests that tracking your progress increases your chances of reaching your goals. The effects were even greater when participants shared their progress with others.

The SMART system invites you to set measurable goals. Track your progress with strategies like a journal, a tracking app on your phone, a spreadsheet, or even a social media page.

Get support

Enlist the help of friends and family. Having someone hold you accountable can make a big difference, as confirmed by an older 2013 review. This can be especially true if your New Year’s resolutions relate to habits like what you eat, what you do after work, or when you go to bed.

Aligning your goals with people around you better enables them to support you. 

In addition, if your resolution relates to behaviors — like eating plans, medication adherence, weight maintenance, or physical activity changes — a healthcare professional like a family doctor, physical therapist, or registered dietitian can offer tailored advice to guide you on your journey. 

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Be kind to yourself

Remember that setbacks are natural and valid. Your growth may not look like a straight line, and that is OK. Just keep going and focus on getting back on track, one day at a time.

Reward yourself

Celebrate your successes along the way. Treat yourself to something you enjoy when you reach a milestone.

Not only does this feel nice, but rewarding yourself for success reinforces your behavior change and makes it more likely that you’ll reach your resolutions. 

Why can’t I keep resolutions?

Keeping New Year’s resolutions can be a challenge. It might be because the goal is not SMART or a hectic everyday life takes priority.

Another reason for not following through may be low willpower or difficulty managing impulses — the ability to resist temptation and delay gratification. Low motivation is also a common reason to forget about New Year’s goals.

All of this is part of being human and it’s natural. But if you feel you are having a harder time than usual keeping New Year’s resolutions or sticking with your goals in general, you may want to explore underlying causes.

For instance, these mental health conditions may impair your motivation and ability to control impulses:

If you’re having trouble keeping your New Year’s resolutions — or implementing changes at any other time of the year — consider reaching out to a healthcare professional. They can help you explore possible reasons and recommend management plans, including talk therapy, medications, or both. 

Depending on the underlying cause and the severity of your symptoms, your healthcare professional may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or psychoeducation.

In some cases, they may also recommend medications like:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Doctors may prescribe these for depression and anxiety, as well as sometimes OCD. SSRIs increase levels of serotonin in the brain to help regulate mood. Examples are:
  • Stimulants: Doctors may prescribe these for ADHD. These medications increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain to improve focus and attention. Examples are:

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

Summary

Keeping your New Year’s resolutions can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Try to start small, make a plan, track your progress, get support, be kind to yourself, and celebrate your successes along the way. 

Don’t hesitate to seek help if you feel keeping resolutions is overwhelming. Managing conditions like depression and anxiety can help your overall health, including your ability to set and reach goals.

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