Man at seashore, ready to make a New Year's resolution.

How to Make A New Year’s Resolution Stick

A new year is a great time to assess where your life is, and where you want it to go. Committing to a firm goal can motivate you and help you feel progress in your life instead of being stuck or in a rut. But resolutions are also notoriously hard to stick to, so how do you make a New Year’s resolution that works for you?

Make a New Year’s Resolution That Matters to You

You need a “why.” What makes this goal meaningful to you? Are you doing it for yourself, for people you care about, or just because you think you’re supposed to? If you aren’t sure that this is what you want, your motivation is likely to falter.

Let’s take exercise as an example. If your goal is to “Get in shape,” do you want to get strong? Avoid health issues or chronic pain? Feel confident in your appearance, or something else? Any of these can be valid reasons, but you need to know your reason. Then, you can remind yourself of it on days you don’t feel like working out.

Identify your reservations, too. If you have mixed feelings about “getting fit” because you’re concerned about body-shaming in our culture, you might not work out as much as you intended. However, if your goal is to strengthen your joints, or keep up with your kids, your values will keep you going.

So, ask yourself: what’s important to you? What would make you feel happier with your life?

What Can You Control?

Center your resolution on choices you make, not on external events, other people, or things you can only affect indirectly. Setting expectations for things you can’t control leads to frustration.

For instance, you can’t control whether you get a better job. If you make that your goal, and you go through five interviews without getting an offer, you will probably feel like a failure. But you can control how many job applications you submit. You can control what your resume looks like, and you can look up common interview questions to rehearse. So if you set your goal as “Revise my resume and submit three applications each week,” you can definitely meet that.

What physical actions can you take to get closer to your goal?

Make It Measurable

Have you ever wondered why computer programs show a progress bar while downloading big files? It’s because we aren’t good at waiting on things without some indication that we’re getting closer to what we want. The progress bar reassures us that things are happening, that we’re on the right track. It helps us keep going instead of giving up.

Make your own “progress bar” by making a New Year’s resolution that you can measure. Perhaps you want to save money for a new car: how much do you want to save? How much of each paycheck can you set aside for that? If you want to save $5000 this year, and you’re paid monthly, then you could put aside $417 each month into a bank account for that purpose. Then you can see the number slowly rising each time you add to it.

Or, suppose that you want to improve your drawing skills. How do you measure something like that? Maybe you could do quick sketches of 100 faces. Or maybe you could draw 50 types of animals, or doodle for 15 minutes a day. Look for some number you can count, and a way to record it, so you can give yourself a pat on the back for all your work later!

Aim For Consistency, Not Intensity

Most big changes take a long, long time. Longer than your initial burst of motivation will last. You might even have to do them forever, if it’s something like “Eat vegetables every day.” So you need to a way to sustain the work even when you aren’t motivated.

Start with a small, simple habit you can do regularly. Same time every day, ideally. Make it as easy as possible to do and remember. Consider attaching it to another consistent habit you have – like if you want to floss more, put the floss dispenser on top of your toothbrush and always floss first.

If your goal is a 30 minute workout three times a week, but you find yourself not doing it, what about a 10 minute workout each morning? Or, if you can’t write 500 words per day, what about 100? (These last two paragraphs are 110 words!)

Aim for the easiest version of an activity first. You can up the challenge later.

Make Your New Year’s Resolution With a Buddy

Personal growth can be a lonely journey. Find someone you can share your struggles and successes with. Friends, relatives, people who share your interests, even social media can all work. It’s even better if they make a New Year’s resolution, too, so you can encourage each other’s progress.

If your resolution is particularly tough, or you’ve got other problems getting in your way, you might want more specialized support. Therapy can be a good option here, since therapists are trained to turn vague issues like “anxiety” into specific techniques you can try. I love the process of pinning down what, exactly, the problem is, and being able to label it is often a huge relief for my clients even before we start finding solutions. If you think this process could be useful for you, drop me a line!