How to Stick to New Year's Resolutions


Ready to achieve big goals in the new year? Here is how to avoid common pitfalls.

About 50% of adults in North America make a New Year's resolution each year, according to an article by Dr. Richard Koestner, a professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal.1

The top resolutions are behavioral commitments related to improving one's health, namely losing weight, quitting smoking, and decreasing alcohol consumption.

But just 8% of people achieve their resolution goals, according to data from Forbes magazine.2

Why is there such a high failure rate? Here are a few reasons.

1. Unclear and vague goals. It is better to say, "My goal is to lose 20 pounds by June 1," rather than "I plan on being healthier" or “I need to lose 50 pounds."

Solution: Use the SMART goals method, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. This helps to create goals that will stick long term. For example, "I am going to exercise for 30 minutes, 3 times a week." That goal is specific. It can be measured and is attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

2. An unsustainable plan. There are so many restrictive diets that cause initial short-term weight loss. “I’m stopping sugar,” or “I am only eating 1 slice of bread per week,” are examples of goals that are not sustainable. Diets do not work; lifestyle changes do.

Solution: Instead of saying, “I’m never eating sugar again,” or “I’ll be at the gym for 2 hours a day," try to set small, incremental goals. The plan should have a steady, consistent progression to help achieve the goal.

3. Weak self-control and self-regulation. Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to act in one's long-term best interest, consistent with the person's deepest values.3 It is better to say that once I go on vacation, I will only have a single plate at any meal at the all-you-can-eat buffet rather than having to respond to the temptations at each meal. Think of it as a proactive, versus reactive approach.

Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Isn't it true that emotions can often influence behavior? Emotions are energy in motion. They change and can be fleeting. We will have stressful situations, such as sick kids or crises at work. Life happens. However, keeping our core values in the forefront can help override the desire to dig into that box of donuts at work.

Solution: Self-regulation is best achieved when we focus on values rather than emotions. For example, your core value may be “I want to be healthy," while your emotions may say, “I don’t feel like going to the gym today." When we act based on our values, we are more deeply rooted in our goals, and that leads to success.

Getting support around one's goals is key for success. Having an accountability partner, coach, or mentor to offer guidance can be extremely helpful. Not only can a coach help with accountability, but he or she can get results faster and more directly. A coach can help us feel more confident, ensuring that we are part of the 8% who actually achieve their resolutions.


1. Koestner R. Reaching one’s personal goals: a motivational perspective focused on autonomy. Canadian Psychology. 2008;49(1):60—67. doi: 10.1037/0708-5591.49.1.60.

2. Diamond D. Just 8% of people achieve their new year's resolutions. Here's how they do it. Forbes. Published January 1, 2013. Accessed December 20, 2017.

3. Stosny S. Self-regulation. Psychology Today. Published October 28, 2011. Accessed December 20, 2017.

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