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The Best Way To Make Your New Year's Resolution Successful

Hint: Just wanting to change is not enough.

So you want to change a habit or reach a goal, and you're going to get started on January 1. Great! You have good intentions! But there is one essential step to take in order to make your New Year's resolution successful. It's this:

Make an actual resolution.

Does that sound too obvious even to mention? Maybe it does, but making a specific resolution is essential to a good start on a lasting change. Simply having the desire to change is usually not enough.

Research backs me up on this. Dr. John Norcross studied two groups of people, both of whom wanted to change. Six months after January 1, only 4 % of the group that wanted to change but hadn't made specific resolutions had managed to maintain their desired change goal. But 46% of those who made specific resolutions were still on track.

4% versus 46%. Wow! Such a striking result! The people who made resolutions were over 10 times more likely to be successful. This data tells us that actively making a resolution to change is a powerful act. A resolution, a vow, a decision to change--whatever you'd like to call it, it means that you've become willing to turn your life in a better direction. You've firmly planted your goal in the executive part of your brain: "Yes, this is want I want to do."

To make your resolution even more powerful, ask yourself if it has these characteristics:

You made the decision to change, not your doctor or your spouse or someone else. You own it.
• You made this decision deliberately and consciously.
• You made it for a reason that you care about and that makes sense to you--your motivator. (See my post, "Motivated: The Essential First Step.") Now you've got willpower!
• You made your resolution because you wanted to, not because you felt you should do it.
• You wrote it down.
• You told someone about it. This action strengthened your commitment.
• Your resolution is specific enough so that you'll know if you've done it. It's SMART--specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based. (Not "exercise more," but "I will exercise Monday, Wed, and Fri at the gym from 5:30 to 6:30 pm.")

It looks like my favorite psychology joke needs some tweaking. The joke goes like this: "How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?" Old answer: "Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change." New version: "Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change--and to make a specific resolution."

True, there are a few other secrets to a successful New Year's resolution. I'll reveal them in subsequent posts. But for now, think about what you really want for yourself for the coming year. Do a little research if you need to. Weigh the pros and cons. Let your ideas simmer on the back burner of your mind. Listen to your feelings. Pay attention to what draws you in a better direction.

Then, some time on or before Jan. 1, make a resolution.

(c) Meg Selig

I am the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). For more juicy tidbits on habit change, willpower, and healthy living, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.


Norcross, J.C., et al. (2002). Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolutions. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58 (4), 397-405.