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5 Questions That Will Lead You to New Year's Resolution Wins

If you're making 2022 resolutions, ask yourself these simple questions first.

Key points

  • To succeed in year-end promises, first assess how much control you have over factors that relate to the desired outcome.
  • Considering your intentions and using precise language can help propel you towards your desired goals.
  • Researchers found that people were more successful at sustaining New Year's resolutions that were approach-oriented versus avoidance-oriented.
 Denise Robertson, photo used with permission
Source: Denise Robertson, photo used with permission

Many of us make resolutions we won't meet or maintain. For example, refer to past years when you've said, "It's going to be different this time." And then, once again, it ended up a resolution shmesolution.

This year, before you set your promises in stone in your mind or on paper, I invite you to ask yourself the following five questions. The clarity you'll gain from answering them can help you to have a resolu"win."

1) Have I tried this resolution or a variation of it before?

Unless you want to blow up your self-esteem, do not commit to something you already didn't or couldn't maintain. If you make a similar resolution each year, it's time for a new one. Right?

2) Do I have control over if the resolution happens?

I shake my head and chuckle when I realize that something I wanted to achieve was out of my control. For example, I wanted to be a part of a project that was just outside my training and background. Nevertheless, I'd write it on my "Goals" list each year and be met with nothingness. I finally had an epiphany: If it were ever to happen, it would depend on factors not in my control (e.g., luck and timing). So, I stopped writing it.

Incidentally, long after I stopped including the project on my lists, it happened. In hindsight, here's what I think occurred. I kept up with what was in my control: expanding my training and working with gifted colleagues. Then, out of the blue, the parts not in my control lined up. So here’s an idea: Maybe include that stuff you can control in your goals list. The rest may or may not align; if it does, you'll be ready.

3) What’s behind the resolution?

Regarding the importance of getting specific, let’s look at two common resolutions: “get in shape” and “lose weight.” So why do you want to get in shape or lose weight?

For example, if you want to get in shape, is it because you wish to feel stronger? Do you want to see more body tone? Do you want to feel socially more powerful, and believe changing your body will do that? Do you wish to not get winded when going upstairs? The list of intentions underneath “get in shape” can be endless. I invite you to pick one and set it instead.

Here’s a real-life illustration. Earlier this year, I realized that my worn-out knees (that need replacing) might benefit from strengthening. Looks-wise and feelings-wise, the muscles surrounding the knee cap seemed to have gone to goo. I resolved to improve the situation (or at least give improvement a real try).

Since my intention was specific, I didn’t go overboard committing to a workout regimen I wouldn't continue because I, frankly, don't enjoy the act of working out for the sake of working out. I want and appreciate less pain in my knees. That specificity made a few quick and simple strengthening exercises not horrible (albeit boring) to maintain throughout the months.

Get the picture?

Regarding the "lose weight" piece, why that? If it's to feel more confident, are there other ways? How else can you challenge yourself to reach that sense of self-assuredness you think changing weight represents? Or, if it's to get healthier, I invite you to expand your definition of "health,” which is about more than weight and laboratory test results.

For clearness and ease in thinking about this, try posing it in this way:

  • If I had my ideal, healthy body size and shape, what else could I do to increase my health?

4) Am I thinking about this in an approach-oriented style?

According to 2020 research by Oscarsson and colleagues, people were more successful at sustaining their New Year's resolutions when they made them approach-oriented versus avoidance-oriented. If you're wondering what that means, it loosely translates to this: moving towards the positive (e.g., "I will start the project") versus avoiding the negative (e.g., "I will not procrastinate" or "I will avoid getting in trouble.").

5) What's the most accurate wording to me: "resolution," "intention," "goal," "desire," "hope," "want," "focus," "target," etc.?

Choose your phrasing thoughtfully. For me, a "resolution" conjures up an old-fashioned courtroom with a scroll document, a giant gavel, a bunch of older white men in white wigs, and a lot of scowling faces and judgment. It's just too stuffy and heavy.

A mentor I know sets New Year’s “intentions.” I like "goals" if they are measurable or business-focused, and I prefer "wants" if they are life- or character-building. For example, one of my New Years' "wants" is to be a better friend to my dearest, heart-filling people. Thankfully, they know me and don’t judge me, but I know I want specifically to show my love for them more often than I do. So that’s my New Year’s want.

Meaningful (Almost) 2022 to You!

Reminder: Every single day offers opportunities to set resolutions, goals, targets, whatever word you want to use. You can use your insight to improve your life at any time. It doesn't have to be around the flip of the year. In fact, many people don't make New Year's Resolutions at all, and that's cool, too.

Cheers to all of us and 2022!

This blog is for informational purposes and does not provide therapy or professional advice.


Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0234097.