Are you making New Year’s resolutions this year?


With the new year upon us, one takes time to look at the year that has just passed and then consider what they want in the year to come. Enter the New Year’s resolution. While I don’t typically agree with the idea that new habits and life changing choices need to be prioritized for the beginning of the year, a new year does provide an appropriate breaking point to make some life changes, a turning of the page if you will. More times than not, these changes involve our personal health and wellness, whether it be physical, emotional, intellectual, occupational, spiritual or social.

So which resolutions do we choose? And how do we go about conquering them, ensuring that our motivation to make these changes doesn’t fizzle out within the first few months of the year?

First, let’s chat about why 80% of resolutions are abandoned by the end of February and only 9% manage to last the whole year. [1]

1. You’re thinking too big.

The first thing to consider is the goal itself? Many resolutions are too big or broad. Goals such as “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to get into better shape” are vague and don’t give you much of a place to start. Change, especially big change, takes time and most of us don’t have the patience for it. It is uncomfortable and hard as we are wired to maintain what is easy and status quo. 

This is why when I work with my clients, we focus on small habit changes as they are more mentally palatable and much easier to accomplish and maintain, giving you a feeling of accomplishment that can fuel the habit to continue. So instead of “I want to eat healthier”, start with smaller more specific steps that feel doable like “I‘m going to cut out added sugar”, “I’m going to fill up my plate with vegetables at every meal” or “I’m going to drink 64oz of water every day” (yes, drinking water can assist you in your goal to eat healthier!). All of these are smaller goals that can slowly (yes, slowly) lead to your bigger goal, allowing for small but permanent life changing habits to be formed. Accomplishing these smaller goals can also give you some self-efficacy, or the feeling that you truly do have the power to change, allowing you to confidently continue on your journey and maybe even add in another habit or two.

2. You don’t know your “why”.

“Why?” is a big and very important question when it comes to making sustainable change. You know that society in general says to eat healthier, but do you know why YOU want to eat healthier? Is it to set a better example for your kids? Is it because you physically feel better when you do? Getting to the core of your “why” can transform your resolution from an “I should do this” into a truly motivational internal desire to make the change.

3. You have one bad day or a bad run and give up.

Shit happens. Life is not perfect and neither are we and if we expect ourselves to be, we are setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. If you have an imperfect day or even a chunk of days where your goals don’t seem to happen whether it be because you’re sick or just not motivated, don’t give up. Every day is a great day to start back up and continue on your way, giving yourself grace and forgiveness.

4. You are not truly ready to make this change.

This is the biggest reason why my super fan card for New Year’s resolutions has been revoked. As a health and wellness coach, one of the first things that I look at when a client wants to make a change is their current place in Prochaska’s stages of change model [2].

The stages go like this…

  1. Precontemplation – “There is no problem. Everything is fine.”
  2. Contemplation – “Hmmm… this could be an issue.”
  3. Preparation – “Ok, I need to do something about this.”
  4. Action – “I can do this. I’m making the change.”
  5. Maintenance – “I’m doing it, it’s awesome and I will continue doing it.”

My goal as a coach is to assess where you are in this model and progressively assist you in moving through the steps. The problem with New Year’s resolutions is if you haven’t at least made it to the action phase by January 1st, chances are your resolutions will go the way of the 80% that never make it to the end. And the fact is, you truly need to go through each phase in order to successfully make lasting change. So if you’ve decided on your resolution on a whim without really mentally planning, preparing and committing yourself to this change, success may not be feasible. To help you get to that all important action phase, you can go back to #2 above and figure out and then really examine your “why”.

OK, so now that we know the reasons New Year’s resolutions don’t work, how do we choose and design them so that they do?

Let’s say Jane wants to get into better shape as an example. And let’s assume that she has never worked out. 

First, you need to think about your “why” and think about it often.

Jane wants to get into better shape so she can be around and healthy enough to play with her children’s children.

Then you decide what small habit changes will work best to make movement towards your goal. These habits are the core of your New Year’s resolutions; the actions that will bring you success. Make sure that you’re starting where you’re at though. So for example, if you’ve never been to a gym, while joining one and jumping right in is an admirable decision, perhaps starting out with a daily walk may be a bit more achievable. Baby steps.

Jane is going to get at least 20 minutes of movement four times a week.
Jane is going to drink at least 32oz of water a day.
Jane is going to cut out processed foods (better fuel for her activity!)
Jane is going to lay out her workout clothes the evening before mornings that she is going to work out.

(If you can, attach these habits to other pre-existing ones. For example, Jane should lay her clothes out right after she brushes her teeth at night.)

Find someone or something to support you and hold you accountable, whether it be a daily checklist, a friend or even a health coach. wink

Jane is going to put the 20 minutes of movement into her calendar and have a daily checklist that she will fill out each day.

Reward yourself for your successes.

After one month of achieving her goals, Jane will buy herself a new workout ensemble. Yay!

Be ready to not be perfect.

I’m going to repeat that…

Be ready to not be perfect.

Jane is not perfect and that is ok. What matters more than perfection is what she does after she strays from the plan.

Measure and reassess your goals and habits every month and modify as needed.

It’s one month and Jane has been mostly consistent so she will add weight training twice a week.

When does this end you ask?

It doesn’t. That’s why they’re called habits. You need to truly wrap your head around the fact that this should not be seen as temporary, it should be viewed as a  lifestyle change, at least if you want your results to last as long as you do. Nothing truly effective or meaningful in health and wellness works by just doing it once. Studies show that while each person is different, generally it takes about 10 weeks of consistency to form a habit. Once something becomes a habit, consistent motivation becomes less important and things tend to get a little easier [3]. So at least you have that. Also keep in mind that these habits are always modifiable, as is your resolution. So if something isn’t working for you anymore, find something that will! No plan should ever be set in stone, life happens, but there should always be a plan.

So if New Year’s resolutions are in your future and you truly want to make a change, do yourself a favor, set yourself up for success and plan them out well. Because I believe that your goals truly are achievable and the power to achieve them is all in you.

[1] Allen, L. (2023, September 13). New Year’s Resolutions Statistics and Trends [2023]. Drive Research. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from

 [2] Norcross, J. C., Krebs, P. M., & Prochaska, J. O. (2010, December 14). Stages of change. Journal of clinical psychology, 67(2), 143-154. 10.1002/jclp.20758

[3] Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), 664-666.