Make Concrete New Year’s Resolutions (and Make Them Stick)

New Year’s resolutions are one of the most popular New Year’s traditions, and every December millions of people are determined to make positive changes in their lives come January 1st. According to Cambridge Dictionary, a New Year’s resolution is a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year.

Are you one to make New Year’s resolutions, and if so, are you able to keep them? Personally I have made numerous New Year’s resolutions over the years, usually along the lines of eat better, exercise more, and save more money. I am one of those people who like to start things on Mondays, the first day of the month, or January 1st. A fresh start sounds good, doesn’t it? You can leave all your bad habits behind and become a new you. I can be very determined to turn my life around and follow the plan I’ve made… until I don’t. The excitement usually lasts for a few weeks before I’m back to my old habits.

And I am not alone; according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 46% of the people who made New Year’s resolutions were successful after the first six months of the year. In addition to these New Year’s resolvers, the researchers studied the so-called nonresolvers, who were interested in changing a problem later, but didn’t make actual New Year’s resolutions. At six months, only 4% of them had achieved their goals.

So, is the solution to stop trying and never make New Year’s resolutions again? In December 2022 I was pondering this very same thing and tried to identify why I could never keep the promises I made to myself. For 2023 I decided to try a new strategy and write down not only concrete and practical resolutions, but also the reasons and motivation behind them and make an actual plan on how to achieve them.

Instead of deciding to exercise more, I determined that I needed to exercise at least four times per week, minimum 30 minutes per session. I decided to prioritize exercising, even if it took time away from something else. Only sleep was sacred and couldn’t be touched. I marked the training times and types in my calendar and made myself an exercise tracker to track my progress. It’s amazing how monitoring can motivate you to not skip exercising and push you to do better. (I am however aware that for some monitoring can be detrimental, so this strategy does not work for everyone.)

Every time I wanted to skip a training session, I reminded myself why I should get up from the couch. For the past year and a half I had been battling some health issues that really scared. They reminded me that health is the foundation for everything else and without it life would be much more difficult in many ways. Now that the worst was over, I needed to not only focus on my health, but prioritize it over everything else. 

As I was getting closer to the big 4-0, I started to realize I’m not invincible and have to start taking better care of myself. (Unfortunately there are many things we cannot prevent, no matter how well we care for ourselves, but luckily we can minimize some risks.) I also wanted to feel stronger and more energized and not be so tired every day after work. I wanted to be able to move my body more freely and not feel stiff and stuffy all the time. In addition to the training calendar and tracker, I wrote down these reasons and kept the list on my fridge door. Just so that they were always there to remind me why I was doing what I was doing.

In 2023 I only focused on one big theme and succeeded in it. As this model seems to work for me, I will be doing the same thing in 2024. Trying to turn my whole life around in one year would have been too much, but now that the foundation is laid, I can build on it and add new good habits in my life.

8 tips to making New Year’s resolutions stick

  1. Don’t make too many New Year’s resolutions. Focus on one or two big ones and plan for a gradual change. Don’t take on too big or quick changes. If you are pursuing a big goal, break it into smaller and more achievable steps or goals.
  2. Set a goal that is in line with your values and really motivates you. If you are making resolutions to please someone else, you are less likely to keep them. 
  3. Write down the reasoning behind the goal. Why do you want to make this change or achieve this goal, what is your motivation?
  4. Make sure your goal is realistic and attainable. If your goal is to save 50 000 € in a year on a 60 000 € salary, you are destined to fail. On the other hand, saving 5 000 € or 10 000 € can be doable for you.
  5. Make a concrete plan on how you’ll achieve your goal. Be specific and write down the goal as clearly as possible. 
  6. Write down your resolution and if you want, tell your family or friends about it. Both are good ways to hold yourself accountable. 
  7. If monitoring or measuring works for you, plan a way to track your progress along the way.
  8. Remember to allow yourself room for error and don’t get deflated if you fall off the bandwagon. None of us are perfect and setbacks are totally normal and do not mean failure. One slip is not a reason to ditch the whole plan – just start again the next day!