How to Make Successful New Year’s Resolutions


In a session today, a client said to me, “Every year I make all these great New Year’s resolutions, and every year I fail at them. What am I doing wrong? Everyone else knows how to stick to their New Year’s resolutions, why can’t I? I feel like a loser.”

The Trouble with New Year’s Resolutions

Most people have trouble creating attainable or realistic New Year’s resolutions. What I see often are people creating very rigid black and white goals that are setups to failure.

Does this feel familiar to you at all? Do you ever deal with this or something similar?

The truth is, most people aren’t able to stick to their New Year’s resolutions. In fact, according to Wikipedia, “52% of participants in a resolution study were confident of success with their goals, only 12% actually achieved their goals.”

New Year’s resolutions can be a way to reflect on the past year, to think about what worked and what you want to bring more of into your life as well as a way to think about what didn’t work so well and what you want to let go of.  

However, New Year’s resolutions can also be super damaging because people often make resolutions that sound something like this:

  • Lose 20 pounds.
  • Go to the gym 5-7 times a week
  • Stop eating sugar
  • Quit drinking alcohol
  • Make more money
  • Get a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Quit smoking
  • Quit drinking diet coke

For example, you’re back at work after the holidays and stressed out. That guy walking down the street puffing on an American Spirit passes you, and you compulsively bum a cigarette off him. Immediately you feel screwed. 2021 is ruined. You hate yourself and you can’t believe that you ruined it all.

You believe you now have to wait another year to quit smoking. Okay, that’s pretty extreme, but often that’s how black and white it can be with resolutions.

Long term goals instead of New Year’s Resolutions

A better way to make resolutions is to think of long term goals where you bring more of what you want into your life by integrating the kinds of behaviors that you have enjoyed and have been pleasurable and easy for you in the past.

  • I will invest in myself and in my recovery.
  • I will actively work on decreasing my binge eating by calling supportive people when I know that I’m heading into a challenging situation and by eating three meals a day and by getting enough protein.
  • I will try and get to ANAD support group meetings once a month.
  • I will join Quitnet to get some support in helping me quit smoking.
  • I will try to be kinder to myself. When I notice that I’m being mean to myself or hard on myself I will take a breath and remind myself that I am doing the best that I can and I don’t deserve to be treated unkindly.
  • I will let people know that I am interested in being introduced to a potential partner or start dating online. If I’m feeling red flags around people that I’m dating- I’ll talk to a safe person about that.
  • I will decrease the amount of alcohol that I am drinking. If I find that I cannot do that, or if it is a major problem for me, I will consider my treatment options.
  • I will look for jobs or think about ways to increase my earning potential by talking to people who have skills that I admire or by going back to school or being open to suggestions from other people.
  • I will talk to friends and make social events out of hiking, walking, or other fun active dates.  
  • I will find an exercising activity that brings me joy so that exercise is joyous and nurturing rather than rigid and punishing.

Resolutions should be flexible and malleable. Not rigid and fixed. They should have wiggle room and the ability to grow and evolve. Integrating small changes can have a snowball effect.

A New Way to Think of Resolutions

Stop expecting to be one person acting one way on December 31st and an entirely different person on January 1st. Instead, think about yourself as a small snowball. As it rolls down a snowy hill, it picks up more snow, gaining speed, power, strength, mass, surface area, and momentum. Eventually, it becomes a gigantic ball of snow.

You can create a snowball effect by implementing small, doable changes that become very large grandiose changes. Start small, implement more changes, get some momentum, and let it take on a life of its own.

If you have days that you do nothing at all, that’s okay. It’s about letting yourself evolve. The best way to allow that kind of growth and recovery is to be gentle with yourself. Always be gentle and practice loving kindness toward yourself.

What kinds of things worked for you in 2020? What didn’t work for you? What do you want to try to let go of? What do you want to release?

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