“I will lose 25 lbs.”
“I’m going to get organized.”
“I’m going to spend less and save more.”
“I’m going to enjoy life to the fullest.”
“I’m going to stay fit and be healthy.”
Sound familiar? They should because these five goals usually top the list of most popular New Year’s resolutions.
But, let’s be honest. New Year’s resolutions are like listening to the same song every day for a month. By the end of it, you’re ready to move on to something more interesting.
According to stats site Statistics Brain, about 60% of us will make it past a month, only 46% will make it past six months and only 8% of us will achieve our resolution.
The obvious question here is, “Why?” The simplified answer: Your brain drives your success and habits are hard to break. Your mind and your behaviors are pretty complex, and therein lies the key to your New Year’s resolution success or failure.
If you’re here because you want good tips on keeping New Year’s resolutions, then you’ve come to a very good place.
We’ve talked with dozens of experts about the issue and pulled 17 tips from our conversations. We think what you’re about to read will give you a big boost as you head into the new year with resolutions in place.
1. Want to Undermine Your New Year’s Resolution? Play the Blame Game
It’s Week 4 of your new fitness plan and you walk into the gym sleepy-eyed and super groggy. You open the door to your spin class and find that the only available bike is broken.
You turn around, walk to your car and drive home. Within 10 minutes, you’re back under the covers grabbing a few extra hours of slumber. As you wander off into sleepy land, you mutter a few mental criticisms of the spin instructor who ruined your resolution because he didn’t get that bike fixed.
Sorry, friend, but you’ve fallen prey to the blame game.
Pat Moore, a licensed mental health counselor and sports psychology specialist at Mandarin Cove Counseling, said there’s a very specific reason why we blame.
“No more blaming,” she told us during an interview. “Because, when you blame, you feel guilty about something. People don’t like to take responsibility when they blame.”
That broken bike at the gym? Yeah, it’s not the culprit. It’s time to take responsibility. You chose to turn around and go home.
“You can change your behavior or blame,” Pat said. “If you blame, it feels good for a brief minute, but it doesn’t feel good for long.”
2. Setting a Fitness-Related New Year’s Resolution? Do Yoga
Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Fitness and former yoga instructor at Nike’s world headquarters, says yoga is the perfect complement for people who are pursuing fitness goals. Think of the ancient practice as essential body maintenance.
“We all know that cross-training is really helpful, but we tend to overlook yoga in our training,” she said. “Yoga creates a sense of elasticity so your muscles bounce back for recovery and strengthening.”
She also pointed out that yoga’s slow, gradual motions strengthen the smaller muscles responsible for joint stability, a key component to an athlete’s agility.
3. Be SMART About Your Resolutions
Franklin Antoian, founder of www.ibodyfit.com and an ACE-certified personal trainer, told us that one of the foundations of any goal is to remember the acronym SMART:
- Specific: The more specific your goals, the better.
- Measurable: Is it something you can keep track of?
- Attainable: Are you being realistic or biting off more than you can chew?
- Relative to you: Does the goal have meaning or significance to you? Is it tailored to who you are?
- Time-bound: Set a deadline for your goal.
He summed up for us what a SMART goal looks like.
“Instead of saying, ‘I want to lose weight,’” he told us, “say, ‘I want to lose 10 lbs. by Feb 1., walking 3 miles a day, eating 1200 calories a day and going to the gym two times a week.’”
Career expert Heather Monahan also pointed out the importance of being specific when she emailed us about how to succeed with New Year’s resolutions.
“Those that deal in specifics seldom fail and those that deal in generalities seldom succeed,” Heather said. “The devil is in the details and we all need the details in order to deliver on the resolution.”
4. Never Worked Out Before? Start With Walking
There’s no shame in taking your new fitness resolution step by step. We’ve long been proponents of the power of walking to improve your health and shed pounds. But we’re not the only ones.
David Herskowitz, co-founder of Sandbox Fitness in Sherman Oaks, Calif., says walking should be the top priority for people who have fitness-related New Year’s resolutions but have never worked out before.
“Do a 30-45 minute walk every day for about a week,” David said. “From there you can graduate for some incline walking and then go to a gym and talk to a trainer.”
If you spend a lot of time at your desk during work days, then use your lunch break or 15-minute break to do a quick stroll around the office.
“Those quick walks help to break the body of its sedentary habits and get it moving,” David said.
5. Make a Decision and a Plan
All of us can decide to do something. Heck, millions of us decide to do something new every January. But merely deciding won’t get you to the finish line, says Tricia Brouk, an ACE-certified trainer and founder of NYC-based fitness program Brouk Moves.
“Making a firm decision to go to the gym every day is vague and will probably get you a few workouts, then you’ll be back in bed hitting the snooze button,” Tricia said. “Willpower never works.”
Tricia recommends creating a plan in order to create change. If weight loss is your goal, keep a food journal or ask a friend to work out with you to keep you accountable. These big-picture plans help, but you’ll also need to have a daily plan.
“Try making a day plan of how you can be your best self, every single day,” she said. “Show up every day with a plan and if you don’t get to the gym, there’s always tomorrow.”
6. Ditch the Year-Long Resolution and Try Four-Week Goals
One of the big criticisms of New Year’s resolutions is that they’re too overwhelming. We get it; 52 weeks is a long time, and if you pledge to work out five times a week, you’re on the hook for 260 workouts.
Don’t feel forced to follow the crowd off the one-year cliff, says UK-based fitness expert Julia Buckley.
“Instead of setting lofty, long-term goals that make you feel anxious or are unrealistic, start 2017 by committing yourself for just four weeks,” Julia told us. “Four weeks is enough for you to see and feel changes.”
Experiencing those changes will give you a tangible reward that reinforces the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. If you hit your January goal, you’re more likely not to flake out in February, Julia said.
7. Don’t Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions to Yourself
In our second article on resolutions, mental health expert Pat Moore said that her own journey to becoming a specialist in sports psychology started by setting a clear goal and telling her co-workers about it.
While we may be embarrassed or too introverted to share our goals with others, doing so is an important part of increasing the chances of success, said Kristin McGee, a nationally recognized yoga and Pilates instructor.
“If you tell your friends, family, Facebook groups or your office mates, you will be more likely to stick to your resolutions,” Kristin told us. “Not only are others in on your goals now, you’ll also have a support system to rely on.”
8. Don’t Buy Into the “Intentions” Hype
Ask Americans struggle to achieve their New Year’s resolutions, a new movement has become popular: Intentions. Mindful living website Wanderlust summed up this philosophy well in January 2017, saying that intentions “set us free to be our best selves.”
Unfortunately, says Ben Bulach, a bodyweight training specialist with fitness website Freeletics.com, that’s just not the case.
“If it’s just a mere intention rather than a concrete call to action, you will have a hard time actually following through on your intention,” Ben told us via email.
Intentions tend to be wishy-washy – set a concrete goal for your mind and it will surely follow.
9. Adopt a “Now” Mentality
While Ben Bulach says concrete New Year’s resolutions are more effective than intentions, he doesn’t care for them because he thinks “tying resolve and motivation to a specific date” isn’t that helpful.
What ends up happening is that people are always looking forward to a particular date and aren’t taking advantage of the proverbial here and now.
“Don’t wait for a perfect opportunity like New Year’s because the perfect opportunity will most likely never come,” Ben said. “You have to make it happen. If it’s now or never, choose now. There is no better time than the present.”
10. When You Get Frustrated, Give Yourself a Break
When you’re setting up new habits and goals, frustration is inevitable, says Chicago-based psychotherapist and author Dr. Bernard Golden. When we get frustrated, we tend to beat ourselves up for our mistakes.
“Be aware of harshly judging yourself for not making the progress you ‘should be achieving,’” Bernard told us. “Giving up old habits may lead to feeling deprived. Learning new ones requires patience, time and commitment.”
Accepting frustration is normal should be the first step in moving ahead after missing the mark. The second step? Cutting yourself some slack through compassion.
“When making a mistake or not reaching a goal, instead of harsh self-criticism, tell yourself, ‘This takes time,’ and, ‘This is difficult,’” Bernard told us.
This tip is especially important for those who are making weight-loss or fitness goals for the first time. You’re embarking on something that’s not easy and you’ve never done it before. So, it makes perfect sense if you fall short here and there; be kind to yourself when you do.
11. Realize You Don’t Have to Make New Year’s Resolutions
The internet will be abuzz with hundreds of New Year’s resolutions articles and posts, so we can understand if you feel an impending sense of peer pressure to make a resolution or two.
But Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, says there’s no sense in making a resolution if your underlying desire is to keep doing what you’re doing.
“It’s perfectly okay not to make New Year’s resolutions with the caveat and understanding that you are not a loser or failure for not doing so,” she said. “The fact is, most New Year’s resolutions are not adhered to.”
Fran says a big reason behind our failure is that our unconscious mind isn’t sold on the habit change we’ve proposed.
“The part of the mind that stores desires, wishes, wants and needs that we are unaware of always wins,” Fran said. “That means that it doesn’t matter what you think you want, the truth of your underlying wants and needs will always happen.”
You might think you want to lose weight, she said, but if all you want is the “cozy, warm comfort of food,” you’re going to quit.
“Be honest with yourself,” Fran said. “Take a painful, open look within and discover your own truth. Nurture and respect it.”
12. Become a Fan of Mondays
Believe it or not, Monday – that scourge of a day we all hate – is actually a big day for commitment, says Cherry Dumaual, public relations and partnerships director at The Monday Campaigns.
“Leverage Mondays,” Cherry said. “People are more likely to start diets and exercise regimens, quit smoking and schedule doctor’s appointments on Mondays than any other day.”
So, those looking for an edge in their New Year’s resolutions should think about using Mondays as a reset day where they review their performance the past week, note shortcomings and start with fresh motivation.
“Decide what health goal you want to achieve or make a decision to recommit to a goal that you might have wandered from,” Cherry said. “Remind yourself that slip-ups happen to everyone and that every Monday is a new chance to try again.”
13. Counter Failure With a Connection to Your Emotions
In our article about how you can succeed with your New Year’s resolutions, we invoked the wisdom of yoga expert Tiffany Cruikshank, who said it’s vital to connect yourself to how you would feel if you reached your goal.
Kip Soteres, a Dartmouth grad and change communications expert at Pittsburgh-based Soteres Consulting, said this emotional connection plays a significant role in our ability to push forward despite the inevitable stumbles.
“Little setbacks and small failures don’t have to end your commitment,” Kit said. “When you fall off the wagon, get back to the emotional reasons you made the commitment in the first place and return to your desired behaviors as quickly as you can with no guilt or recrimination.”
14. For Your Own Sake, Become a Good Coach
As we mentioned earlier, we tend to beat ourselves up when we don’t meet the expectations we set for ourselves in January.
A technique that can help us self-motivate is to imagine ourselves as our own coach, says Dr. Bridget Hearon, an assistant professor of psychology at Albright College.
“Think about being your own coach. Good coaches don’t get results by simply yelling insults at athletes,” Hearon said. “Instead, they acknowledge when mistakes happen and work to correct any issues that got the person off track in the first place.”
15. Listen to Podcasts Related to Your Resolution
As we gathered research about New Year’s resolutions tips, we got an interesting email from Caitlin Thompson, director of content at the U.S. branch of podcasting platform Acast.
Caitlin suggested that resolution makers should consider subscribing to podcasts related to their goals.
“Sometimes what we need is a helping hand to keep us on track and, thankfully, this can now be found in the form of a podcast,” Caitlin said.
She gave us three suggestions for podcasts available through Acast:
Monday Motivation: Great for focusing you and getting you ready for the week ahead. Remember: Leverage your Mondays!
How I Built This: Host Guy Raz talks with entrepreneurs, providing inspirational stories and practical tips for those who are looking for a weekly dose of motivation for their goals.
Another Mother Runner: Perfect for those who’ve committed to fitness-related goals, AMR covers practical health and fitness topics.
16. Ask Your Family and Friends for Help
New Year’s resolutions, we’ll admit, are really deceptive if you take them at face value. For example, the stay-at-home mom or dad who says they want to go to the gym five days a week has a serious problem if their gym doesn’t provide childcare.
At face value, it seems like a great goal. But the details of life make things a little more difficult. Jennifer Gibson, head of health and nutrition at Vida Health, says it’s important to ask for help in the practical matters.
“As you create your wellness vision of where you want to be, find ways to involve your friends, partners and family to support you in your goals,” Jennifer said.
That could mean asking your spouse to watch the kids on a weekend morning so you can go to the gym or out for a run, or it might mean seeing if a neighbor can let your dog out for you while you’re at an evening yoga class, Jennifer told us.
“There are also many services that may be available in your area for a variety of helping options,” she said, “such as healthy meal delivery, grocery shopping and delivery, shuttling kids to activities or linking you to local, affordable exercise classes.”
17. Have a Plan for Travel
Business travelers who make fitness- or food-related New Year’s resolutions face a unique set of challenges. They’re on the road a lot, which means it’s hard to nail down a solid schedule. We tend to go with the easiest choices, whether that’s fast food or sleeping in.
“When you travel to a new city and a new place, you want to sample the local culture and the local flavor,” said Toni Zoblotsky, head of business-to-business marketing at hotel giant Hilton Worldwide. “You have every intention of exercising (or eating right) on your business trip, but for some reason it falls by the wayside.”
Toni says the best way to maintain your new habits while you’re on the road is to plan ahead, especially when you’ve got long layovers in your itinerary.
“Airports are notorious for junk food and people are on expense accounts, so that’s chemistry for disaster,” she said. “I always pack snacks like nuts and energy bars so I have something to nosh on.”
Final Thoughts About Keeping New Year’s Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions are tricky. They’re easy to say, but hard to do. Yet it’s that ease with which you can proclaim them that sends you into a weird cycle of baby steps of progress, minor setbacks and, eventually, giving up on what once seemed so attainable.
We know the feeling just as well as anyone. Our team members have set various resolutions and goals over the past few years. Some of those goals worked out, while others were pretty much ineffectual.
What we’ve found in our research for this series of articles is that the key to success isn’t in some behavioral method or perfect workout routine. Rather, it’s found in your brain, a complex organ with a hunger to be right but a tendency to drift back into old behaviors.
Amid those mysterious spaces of your mind is the existence of emotions – real and imagined – that can act as a pathway to victory or a steep fall to defeat. If you can connect those emotions to the idea-based goals you set, you can decrease the possibility of failure.
Along with your emotions is what you say to yourself amid adversity and setbacks. Positive mental responses to surprises can push you toward resilience while labeling yourself as a failure or victim can sabotage your plans.
From there, it’s important to cut yourself some mental slack if you slip up, but, at the same time, you need to set a specific date on which you’ll begin again on your path to achieving your New Year’s resolutions.