How To Set Realistic New Year’s Resolutions That Stick?

An empty notebook on a desk with a pencil on it.

New Year’s resolutions are almost an obligatory ritual for the coming year. Almost everyone makes the same set of resolutions every year be it losing weight, quitting smoking or being more productive. The new year is a perfect time to start afresh, put things right and make a better you. But how many of us actually do that? According to statistics, less than 10% of people succeed in keeping their New Year’s resolutions each year. That is because most people miss the mark when making resolutions by failing to identify clear and measurable targets that are also realistic and timely. So how can you set more realistic New Year’s Resolutions this year to set yourself up for success?

Review Previous New Year’s Resolutions to Identify Wins and Mistakes

Learning from past mistakes and identifying what makes you successful is the first step in making your New Year’s resolution effective. Many people set the same new year resolution at the end of the year – be it exercise more, lose weight or take up a new hobby! But the mere fact that the resolutions stay exactly the same for the next year, makes it obvious that they were likely not achieved.

The New Year is a time to look back at how you’ve performed in the past year, what you’ve accomplished, and what you’ve learned in the process. Look at what you set out to achieve a year ago:

  • Were your goals related to building new habits and lifestyle change with no measurable end goal?
  • Did you set yourself a big goal that was never going to be achieved in the timeframe of one year?
  • Did you actually want to achieve your goal, or was it just written down on a whim because you saw something you were momentarily impressed with on social media?
  • Did you succeed in sticking to our last year’s resolution because you listed fun ways to work towards it?
A list of unrealistic new year's resolutions on a notepad.
A list of vague resolutions looks something like this

When you re-examine past New Year’s resolutions, you will learn a lot about yourself. You will discover what worked and what didn’t. Make a list of all your New Year’s resolutions from the past few years. The information that you collect from this exercise will be very useful in helping you formulate this year’s resolutions.

Attributes Of Realistic New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are important goals you have for yourself that you’re going to work towards this year. To be realistic and achievable, your goal-setting process should include some of the fundamental considerations to ensure you set yourself up for the best chance of success.

  1. New Year’s resolutions should make a desired positive impact on your life. Sounds obvious, right? However, think about a goal of earning an extra £10,000 per year. If your resolution to work 2 extra night shifts to make more money will lead you to be constantly tired and sleep-deprived, is it a good goal to set?
  2. Your time, resource and financial constraints should be taken into account. Consider if you have enough time, money, and skill to stick to the resolutions you set for yourself. Strenuous exercise for an hour every day of the week may not be a realistic expectation of yourself. Especially if you haven’t exercised for 10 years or have a constantly changing schedule that does not consistently allow you to find a spare hour in your schedule!
  3. Your ultimate goal should not be your New Year’s resolution. Write down your goal that you would like to achieve by the end of the year, then break it up into steps, and call those steps your resolutions for the next year. If your goal is to gain 10kg of muscle by the end of the year, your resolutions should concentrate on how many times a week you lift weights and your protein intake each day.
  4. New Year’s resolutions list should always be followed up with an actionable plan and a tracking system. Read on for more information.
white tiles with letters on them arranged to spell 'resolutions' on a black background.

Be Very Specific About Your Goals

How many of us set goals that have no clear way of measuring if they have been achieved? Let me give you some of the most common examples:

  • Weight Loss. If you weigh yourself on the 31st of December and weigh 1 kg less will you consider it a success? Unlikely!
  • Exercise more. Sure, increasing your fitness levels has good intentions, but what does “more” mean to you? If your fitness tracker tells you that you made more steps this year, but your overall workout time reduces by a quarter, have you achieved your goals?
  • Learn a new language. It is unlikely that any human being can be completely fluent within one year. Where exactly do you want to be with your language skills in one year’s time?
  • Be kinder to people. What a beautiful resolution and certainly an important thing to concentrate on, but what does ‘being kind’ involve? Have you donated to charity but didn’t say happy birthday to any of your relatives?

Realistic new year’s resolutions should have a clearly defined measurable goal. However, the goal should allow for some flexibility to make mistakes throughout the year (e.g. if you don’t drink 2 litres of water for 10 out of 365 days of the year, you should not consider it a failure at the end of the year).

a man in  a contemporary dance pose.

For example, if you want to lose weight, specifying your target weight at the end of the year will give you clarity on your ultimate goal. But identifying smaller goals and the next steps to take towards them, will make great new year’s resolutions. A good example of your new year’s resolutions would be:

  • Track your calorie intake at least 5 days a week.
  • Stick to 1500kcal at least 5 days a week.
  • Join a local Weightwatchers’ club.

If you want to save more money, how much do you want to save? Think about ways you can achieve that and make sticking to saving money on certain things your new year’s resolution. If you can attach a monetary value to each of the resolutions, that will only motivate you further.

  • I will save money by only buying no more than two coffees from Starbucks each week.
  • I will air-dry my laundry to save on the electricity bill if the temperature outside is above 18 C.
  • I will only purchase something that costs over £50 if I give myself 24 hours to think about it.

Make sure you are very specific in your resolutions. Your ultimate goal should be clearly defined, but more importantly, your realistic resolutions should represent quantifiable, specific small steps that will get you over the finish line towards your larger goals. A vague resolution will not give you a clear indication of the next step you need to take!

Identify Why Achieving Your Goals Are Important

Having clear targets is important, but they are only useful if you know why they are important to you in the first place. Seeing the bigger picture and choosing specific goals that align with your long-term dreams will boost your motivation when it comes to acting upon them.

Once you’ve written down your goals for the year, and broken them down into smaller resolutions, ask yourself how achieving the bigger goal will help you. Then ask yourself how sticking to each individual resolution you set for yourself will make you feel, even if you don’t reach your ultimate goal.

a board with a bunch of notes pinned to it, with the top one saying 'We start from WHY".

New Year’s resolutions can act as means to personal growth, slowly eliminating bad habits and simply pushing you in the right direction. For example, your ultimate goal may be to earn £35,000 from your blog. And you aim to achieve your goal by sticking to your resolutions by writing 3 articles, reaching out to 3 companies for partnerships and spending 3 hours on marketing on social media each week. Even if you don’t achieve the ultimate goal of the set income from your blog, you will have stuck to your resolutions, taking you a lot closer to your dreams, making a real change in your work ethic and possibly comparing a bad habit of procrastination.

Do not think of new year’s resolutions as your ultimate goals. Think about them as small attainable goals that will help you form healthy habits and behaviour change that will ultimately lead to achieving your dreams! That way you will be on the right path knowing that your hard work will eventually pay off! Make sure your New Year’s resolutions are aligned with your values and your vision for the future. This will keep you motivated and help you to stay on track.

Consider How Your New Year’s Resolutions Will Fit Into Your Schedule

New Year’s resolutions often fail because people don’t take into account their daily activities or the time they have available to achieve them. The best way to determine whether or not your New Year’s resolution is achievable is to look at your schedule for the coming year. Make a list of all your daily responsibilities and how much time you will have available to accomplish your resolutions.

If you want to exercise for an hour at the gym 6 days a week, and a round trip to and from the gym takes another hour, you may have to find better ways to keep fit!

a calendar, a to do list and a pen.

If you want to save £10,000 by the end of the year, but have your daughter’s wedding and three foreign vacations planned, maybe there are other types of goals that you should concentrate on this year! Or maybe you should simply set a more realistic ultimate goal (what amount of money can you realistically save?).

Prepare a Tracking System With A Built-In Reward System

We all want an immediate reward, but waiting another year to establish if we were successful in making our resolutions stick and achieving the goals we set at the start of the year, may just be too far into the future! The delayed rewards may just be another reason why New Year’s resolutions fail! And that’s why you need a tracking method with a built-in reward system to keep you motivated.

a brown bag with words 'Treat Yourself!' printed on it.

When you make a resolution, break it up into small steps with clear deadlines. Make a spreadsheet in Excel, download an app on your phone or invest in a habit tracker journal (like a food or exercise log if your resolutions are related to health, fitness and weight loss) and see how you progress throughout the year! This will help you to stay on track.

In addition to marking your progress, it is a good idea to have a reward system in place. For example, if you want to save more money, make a deal with yourself that you will treat yourself with a small reward once you have a certain amount of money saved! This will boost your motivation to complete your small goals in the short run and will keep you on track in the long run on the way to your new year goals.

Accept That Mistakes Will Happen And Prepare To Pick Yourself Up

New Year’s resolutions are not a one-time thing. Yes, sure, the start of a new year is a great time to sit down and assess what you need to do to improve the overall quality of your life and develop new skills, but it is also important to acknowledge that resolutions are a process, and you will have to work hard to make each resolution stick.

Setting realistic new year’s resolutions will set you up for a good chance of success, but mistakes are a part of life. Accept that you will have days in the upcoming year when you have no time, energy or willpower to chase after your goals. And when you slip up, the most important thing you can do is to pick yourself up and carry on. Making a mistake doesn’t mean you will need to make a fresh start. You paused for a second, but your progress has not vanished. Learn and move on. As long as you are working towards your goals for the right reasons and set yourself realistic goals, an occasional reoccurrence of old habits or a day of weakness will not stop you from making overall positive changes to your life over the course of the year!

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Bottom Line

If you ever set a New Year’s resolution that lasted about a week, you are not alone. Many people struggle to stay committed to their resolutions for more than a few weeks. It’s not because resolutions aren’t worthwhile, it’s usually because they haven’t set realistic New Year’s resolutions. Being realistic about what can be achieved in your circumstances, setting smart goals and then breaking them up into smaller resolutions will help you feel a sense of achievement throughout the year, boosting your mental health, and positive thinking and improving your personal life!

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