How to Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick
New year's resolutions are difficult to keep. Here are some ways to succeed.
Posted December 31, 2021 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
- New year's resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep.
- One challenge may be the perfectionistic mindset attached to resolutions.
- Setting shorter-term and trend-based goals may improve your motivation to keep your resolution for longer.
At the end of each year, we get a new opportunity to improve ourselves—exercise more, eat a healthier diet, quit smoking, or be more productive. Whatever it may be, a new year's resolution provides a guiding principle meant to lead us to become a better version of ourselves.
However, we know all too well that new year's resolutions rarely tend to stick. In fact, according to a 2015 ComRes poll, only 20 percent of new year's resolutions are kept beyond the first five weeks of the year. Why is that? Why is it so hard to keep a promise we make to ourselves, in all earnestness, from year to year?
There are many reasons we fail to keep resolutions; from the difficulty of beginning a new habit, to the reality that sets in when other life responsibilities return, to our waning memory of the resolution itself as time goes on.
I would like to argue that there is also another factor that makes resolutions hard to keep: a perfectionistic framing. We often frame our resolutions in absolute terms: for example, I will do X number of pushups each morning; or I will cut Y calories from my daily intake; or I will go to the gym Z times per week. While framing our resolutions this way may make them more salient and easy to remember, it also creates a context in which perfectionism can completely derail us from our goals.
I may be having great success at doing my X pushups each morning for the first 8 days of the year, but then on the 9th day, a set of unexpected events prevents me from doing my set. Critically, on the 10th day, the perfectionistic framing of the resolution may interfere with my desire to continue with it. Since I've already skipped day 9, I've already failed to meet the original resolution. Therefore, it seems like no big deal to skip my pushups on day 10, day 11, and so on, since I've already failed anyway.
The all-or-none framing of resolutions, along with a perfectionist mindset, is a recipe almost guaranteed to lead to broken resolutions. Worse, once a resolution is broken in this way, it will be nearly impossible to reinstate.
Therefore, I propose two approaches to improve the chances that your 2022 resolutions will stick:
1. Set shorter-term goals
Rather than committing to a full 365 days of a new healthy or productive habit, start with a 90-day goal. The shorter time frame has two benefits: first, it will create a more manageable set of expectations in which you will see consistent progress. Each week in which you meet your goal will represent a substantial step forward to meeting your 90-day resolution. Additionally, if you succeed in reaching the 90-day goal, your new habit is likely to have set in (according to research by Lally et al., 2010), making it much easier to continue it throughout the remainder of the year.
2. Avoid perfectionistic goals; instead, set trend-based goals
Rather than committing to doing a new activity every morning, define your goal in terms of weekly or monthly trends. For example, rather than committing to walking 7,000 steps every single day, make a goal of walking an *average* of 7,000 daily steps, from week to week, or from month to month. This way, a day in which you don't meet your goal does not signify the failure of your resolution; it is fine to skip a day here and there, as long as you make up for it another day and your weekly or monthly trends are keeping steady.
Of course, there are many additional challenges to starting and keeping new habits, and the approaches suggested above offer no guarantees. However, if you feel that your past new year's resolutions have been difficult or impossible to keep, it may have to do with the way you are framing your resolutions. Consider setting shorter-term and trend-based goals; seeing week-to-week improvements, while allowing yourself to have off-days, may help you avoid the common pitfalls of new year's resolutions.
Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.