How to Finally Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Each year around New Year’s resolution time, we reflect on the past and hope that this year will be the one. Finally, the year to get organized, lose weight, quit smoking, or spend more time with family. All it takes is setting the resolution. Right?

As we all well know, New Year’s resolutions aren’t quite that simple. But what we have working for us is the fact that humans are wired for growth. This growth happens in stages throughout life allowing us the opportunity to learn, edit and master. Every time we set a new goal — and preferably a small goal — it gives us a chance to build confidence and belief that a new normal is possible. 

To get to a new normal, you must begin thinking differently.

When it Comes to Resolutions, Subtraction is More Important than Addition 

Unsuccessful New Year’s resolutions have something in common: they tend to favor adding instead of subtracting. 

To that point, creating your new normal has everything to do with subtraction. Less than half of Americans fail to reach their resolutions because they fail to answer the single most important question: what do I need to do less of to allow the resolution to happen

With life demands at an all-time high, this is the first question you should tackle. Reprioritizing and creating a new habit or routine requires that you ask yourself what you should subtract — so that you can add.

Think About Clear Resolution Outcomes, Focus on Goals 

Outcomes lag while goals lead. An outcome might be reduced stress, working less hours, or a certain amount of weight loss. Outcomes are important to identify, but when focused on exclusively, they leave little room for attention to the goals that actually get us there. 

A goal includes working out a certain number of days per week, leaving the office by a certain time, or going out to dinner less often. Goals are specific, measurable and realistic steps that must be taken in order to achieve outcomes. Where people run into trouble with New Year’s Resolutions is getting stuck solely on the outcomes without planning for or focusing on their goals. 

Achieving your New Year’s resolution starts by recognizing it as an outcome. Once you understand this subtle difference, take the time to plan the goals that will help you reach the outcome you seek. 

If you want to reduce stress in your life, you might begin by declining certain responsibilities that are causing undue stress, so that you can add in a meditation or breathing practice at a certain time in the day to relieve stress. Target two or three small goals and be consistent. In most cases this is all it takes to reach even the most gratifying outcomes.

Remember: Actions beat Intentions

The easiest part of a New Year’s resolution is its creation. The intention to do something differently within a new set of 365 days is completely natural, but without consistent action, intentions rarely succeed. 

In order to reach your new normal, it is crucial to think about the types of actions that it is going to take to reach your resolution, such as:

  1. Will you have to wake up earlier to get to the gym? 
  2. What time will you have to leave work so you can cook a healthy dinner? 
  3. Whom will you need to ask for extra support and accountability? 
  4. What actions are you going to take when something doesn’t go according to plan? 

These types of questions will help you plan for the execution steps of your resolution. You’ll increase clarity around what it will take. Actions help you reach goals, and goals help you reach outcomes. 

Identify Your Cues 

Sadly, the pace of life is so fast today, that when attempting to make a dramatic life change it is easy to discount or fail to acknowledge your cues and triggers. Quite a few New Year’s resolutions involve completely removing something from one’s life, like complete abstinence from alcohol or sugar. 

Being realistic when going after a new normal is crucial; restrictive routines typically never end well. The reason you have not achieved a previous resolution could be due to misidentification of your cues. What’s causing you to crave sugar? Why does it feel so right after a long day at the office to pour a glass of wine? What is it that creates the spiral? 

Cold-turkey type resolutions are nearly impossible because they do not address cause and effect. In order to do less of something in your life, you need to focus on what’s causing you to do it in the first place. 

Maybe it’s because the sugary treats are always in the house (environmental) or maybe this has just become your outlet to turn your brain off and numb out from the stress (coping mechanism) in your life. Reaching a new normal requires a deep understanding of the things that trigger you in the wrong direction. Identify these cues and make a plan to minimize — or best case scenario — eliminate them. 

Remove the Judgement and be Flexible 

You’ve heard it before: if we spoke to other people the way we speak to ourselves, we wouldn’t have very many friends. When a resolution isn’t going well you become your own worst critic. 

This type of self-inflicted judgment can lead to a common psychological roadblock called all-or-nothing mentality. When we are not “good” one day, it’s easy to dump the rest of the week down the drain.

When getting to a new normal, no one’s lifestyle will ever be perfect. Some days will be more according to plan, while others will not. Removing judgement around these occurrences is crucial. 

Be flexible with what comes up and always remember that everything counts. Even if it’s not the hour you allotted for a workout or the meal with the perfect macronutrient breakdown, you are going to be OK. 

Give yourself credit for what does go well and move past the judgement on the blips. After all, all journeys begin with just one single step.