Emotional Health · Health

Your New Year’s Resolutions — Five Tips for Success

6608959471_2939651260_zPhoto by Marwa Morgan via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

‘Tis the season of resolutions, those lofty lists we make every year and then break a few weeks later.  If this is your yearly habit, you are in good company.  For many, the new year means a new chance to eat better, exercise more, save money, get a new job, or a host of other goals we set out for ourselves when the clock passes midnight on New Year’s Eve. While some 45 percent of Americans make resolutions each year, by the end of January about 1 in 3 have ditched those plans.  But, for some, resolutions can be just the jump start they need to make a meaningful change.  Some research suggests that those who make resolutions are about 10 more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t.  And, if you make it through the initial drop-out phase, 46 percent of individuals are still working on their resolutions in June.  How, then, to make yourself one of the successful New Year’s resolution setters rather than someone who ditches the plans the first week?  Here are five scientifically based tips to help you succeed in the new year.

  • Dream big, think small: Your resolutions can be big goals – hike to basecamp, lose 50 pounds, eliminate credit card debt – but these are best managed in smaller steps. Take the time to break down your resolution into smaller pieces. What do you need to do this month? This week? Today? Keeping the big picture in mind can help you get through those periods when you may not want to follow through. If your resolution is to run a marathon, sign up for a 5K in February. This can serve as an inspiration to get you onto the treadmill on those dark mornings when you just want to pull the covers over your head.
  • Set up your environment for success: Make the right choice an easier choice. If your goal has been to makeover your eating habits, start by considering what is in your cupboards and on your counters. It is easier to avoid the junk food if it isn’t lurking a few steps away. Research out of Cornell University has looked at how what is on our countertops affects our waistlines.  Looking at the kitchens of 200 families, researchers found that keeping cereal on the counter was associated with 20 pounds of additional weight compared to those who did not. Those with sugary beverages on the counter are 24 to  26 pounds heavier. The reverse is also true –  healthy foods on the counter was associated with lower body weight. Individuals who kept a bowl of fruit on the counter weighed 13 pounds less than those who did not.  
  • Replace a habit rather than erase a habit: It can actually work better to replace a habit with something new rather than simply abolish the old. If, for example, one of your goals is to reduce the time you spend surfing the web at night, consider what you will do instead.  Maybe you shift some of that time to reading a good book or walking the dog. It’s likely that spending all that time on the Internet served some purpose – giving you a way to relax and unwind, for example. Consider what the role of that old habit might have been and how you are going to fill that need with something that is healthier and more fulfilling.
  • Give yourself time: It takes time to form a new habit. Research suggests we are all different, but on average it takes about two months for a person to develop new habits. In one study looking at exercise, those who exercised four days a week took a minimum of six weeks to develop an exercise habit. So, that means if you’re starting now with your exercise regimen, it will hopefully be integrated into your life by mid-February and feel more like something that is just a regular part of your week rather than an extra burden. Give yourself the time.
  • Accept your setbacks and don’t throw in the towel: We’ve all done it. Having stuck to our diet all day, one slice of pizza turns to two and, at that point, our carefully constructed meal plan gets chucked completely and we head to the freezer for the Ben and Jerry’s. Researchers have shown that, having perceived to have overeaten, those who are on a diet will actually eat 50 percent more than those who were not on a diet. Instead, if you eat a little more than you had intended, get back on track now rather than thinking to yourself today is ruined; where is that two-week-old holiday fudge I’ve been hiding? This doesn’t mean never splurge – virtually all successful new routines have flexibility, whether that’s occasionally indulging your sweet tooth or opting out of your daily exercise routine. Just plan to splurge and, the rest of the time, accept your setbacks and move on.

Happy New Year!



Fujita K, Trope Y, Liberman N, Levin-Sagi M.  Construal levels and self-control.  J Pers Soc Psychol. 2006 Mar;90(3):351-67.

Kaushal N, Rhodes RE. Exercise habit formation in new gym members: a longitudinal study. J Behav Med. 2015 Aug;38(4):652-63.

Norcross JC, Mrykalo MS, Blagys MD.  Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. J Clin Psychol. 2002 Apr;58(4):397-405.

Polivy J, Herman CP, Deo R. Getting a bigger slice of the pie. Effects on eating and emotion in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Appetite. 2010 Dec;55(3):426-30.

Statistic Brain Research Institute. New Year’s Resolution Statistics. 2015 Jan 26.

Wansink B, Hanks AS, Kaipainen K. Slim by Design: Kitchen Counter Correlates of Obesity.  Health Educ Behav. 2015 Oct 19.


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  • Diane Dettmann December 28, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Great suggestions and very doable! Thanks Dr. Megan Riddle.