How to Make and Keep a New Year’s Resolution in 2022
This past year may have been a bit better (or worse, depending on your circumstances) than 2020, but there’s one thing most of us can agree on. It’s time to turn the page on the last year and refocus, reenergize, and get a fresh start. Whether you make New Year’s Resolutions or just want to cut out a bad habit or two, build a new routine, or finally conquer a big project, the change of the calendar year is a great time to set and achieve goals.
This is due to an effect known as “salient temporal landmarks,” when people can better tackle their goals. These landmarks show the passage of time and allow people to create a new accounting period as they release past mistakes and imperfections and take a bigger picture look at their lives, which helps motivate new behaviors. 1 Other times for starting new goals include birthdays, holidays, new semesters or new jobs, and even the beginning of each new month or week.
That said, any of these are arbitrary dates. If you aren’t ready to fully commit on January 1 (perhaps because you stayed up a bit late the night before and maybe had a few Mistletoe Mules?), then it’s okay to start on Monday, January 3, or Sunday, January 9. (Don’t, however, put off starting until you feel completely ready and confident—for most of us, that date never comes.)
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail
Unfortunately, it’s pretty obvious that it’s a whole lot easier to set goals or resolutions to start a new exercise program, change your eating habits, spend more time with family, improve financial fitness, drink less, etc., than it is to keep them. And many people start with big ideas to grow mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially—only to give up after a week or two, quickly falling back into old patterns.
In fact, research from Stockholm University found that when Swedes were asked how well they keep their resolutions, a mere 12% of folks felt like they had achieved them successfully. That’s true even of the 52% who were confident they would succeed. 2 So, if you have had a difficult time achieving your goals in the past, you are joined by a lot of other really good people.
The key question now is how can you make this year different? How can you not only make new goals or decide on new habits but actually achieve them?
Let’s dive into some of the top tips…
10 Tips to Make and Keep a New Year’s Resolution
1. Don’t Stop Setting Goals
At this point, you may be wondering, “why bother” when the success rate is so low. That’s a great question. However, there’s one great reason to keep setting new goals: People who set New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to make changes for the better than those who don’t. And that’s even accounting for different demographics, histories, and goals. 3
2. Set New Goals
If you look at your list of resolutions from years past and they seem to be the same, year after year, without success, then it’s time to move on and set a new, different goal. Unfortunately, for many people, once you’ve tried and failed, it’s hard to believe that success is possible.
So, toss out the old and start with a new one. First, though, take a good look at the past goals and evaluate what worked, what didn’t work, and what may have prevented you from making it so.
You may need to make the goal more specific, smaller, or go at it from a different angle. If you’ve always focused on losing weight, for example, maybe this is the year (or month) you focus on getting stronger, walking farther or faster, finding healthy foods (such as vegetables) you love and eating them more often, etc.
3. Make Your Goal Specific
So, you want to be more productive, get in shape, lose some weight, be a better friend, be financially free, etc. If your goal is that ambiguous, how will you know when you’ve reached it? Instead, choose a specific, reasonable goal—one that you can achieve in the time allotted.
For example, you can commit to walking for 20 to 40 minutes every day, hitting the gym 3 times a week, drinking 3 liters of water daily, texting a friend every day, scheduling an outing with a friend every week or every month, or saving 10 to 20% of every paycheck. Don’t stop there, though. Next, determine exactly how you’re going to accomplish that specific goal. 4
If you’re walking daily, set a specific time when and where you’ll walk. Schedule appointments on your calendar for when you’ll connect with friends. Create an automatic savings plan with your bank. Or set a timer to remind yourself to fill up your water bottle throughout the day—which is when you’ll also want to have finished your previous bottle.
4. Set One Reasonable Goal at a Time
This may be the year that you want to drop 50 pounds, save $5,000, take a dream vacation, and get your dream job to drastically improve your life. Allowing yourself to dream big or set audacious goals can be inspiring and give you the drive to get started.
Unfortunately, though, drastic impulses to change everything all at once can be overwhelming and unrealistic for many people. Instead, focus your effort on one concrete, achievable goal supported by subordinate goals.
For example, if the concrete goal is to lose 20 pounds in the next 3 months, then the subordinate goals are the steps needed to achieve that goal. For example, that can include cutting 500 calories from your daily diet, hitting the gym 5 days a week, and ensuring you go to bed at a specific time each night.
Then, once the overarching goal is achieved, you can always set your next goal, whether that’s to lose another 10 pounds or start planning that dream vaca while continuing with your new healthy lifestyle habits.
Achieving just one small goal can help you believe in yourself and your ability to succeed. It’s also why it’s a good idea to break major goals down into smaller, more manageable pieces. So, you can focus your efforts, which ultimately leads to a greater rate of long-term success.
This also helps prevent feeling overwhelmed or as if your goal is taking over your entire life. 5
Plus, it gives you a chance to set and achieve new goals throughout the year. Thirty-day challenges are a great way to build on progress, prevent boredom, and get really specific about what you’re going to accomplish next.
5. Start Small
One big reason so many New Year’s Resolutions don’t pan out is because they require a radical departure from the way you have been living. The diet is so strict, you always feel deprived. The workouts are so hard, you can barely walk down the hall, brush your teeth, or get out of bed. Your financial goals are so hard, you feel like a miserable miser. Not exactly a fun way to start the year.
Especially if you’re new to a diet, workout program, or new habit, allow yourself to take small steps and build momentum. For example, if you haven’t been going to the gym, skip the hour-long hardcore workouts and start with some gentle movement. As you get stronger and more fit, continue to push your body throughout the year rather than risking an injury as you are just getting started.
If you don’t eat vegetables and want to start eating more healthfully, start adding vegetables to some of your favorite recipes. Or try one new delicious vegetable-containing recipe per week to find some you truly love. If you’ve never saved before, instead of saving 20% of every paycheck, cut out going out for coffee once a week to save up to $40 this month.
While you may not see results as quickly, for many people, making smaller changes and showing up consistently leads to greater long-term success. 4
6. Make a Plan
You’ve likely heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail,” often attributed to Benjamin Franklin (though it’s questionable if he actually said it). No matter who said it, however, planning is a major key to success.
As you decide on your goal or behavioral change, include steps you need to take to achieve it. Then track those steps to keep yourself on the path. You can use a habit tracking app, a notecard, a calendar, or anything that helps you see your progress visually—as long as it helps you track your progress and regularly evaluate if what you are doing is taking you closer to your goal. 4
Being able to look back can also show you how far you’ve come. Keep in mind, however, that progress isn’t always linear. Some days or weeks will be better than others, and sometimes things get worse before they get better.
While you are planning how you will accomplish your goals, also make a plan for how you will deal with obstacles, resistance, or other challenges. Things don’t always go according to plan, so deciding what you will do when things don’t go your way can help you stay on track. For example, how will you exercise if your gym is closed or if your workout partner, trainer, or class cancels? How will you proceed if you get ill or injured? What will you do when you just don’t feel like it?
By writing down what could get in your way in advance, you’ll be better prepared to face the obstacle head-on and accomplish your goals even in the face of difficulties. In other words, you’ll have tools in place to overcome challenges instead of getting sidelined by them.
7. Be Patient with Yourself
Making a lifestyle change of any kind is hard, especially if it’s a deeply rooted habit that you’ve developed over the years. Don’t expect yourself to change overnight or even after a month. Change takes time, so please be patient with yourself.
Every misstep is an opportunity to learn from the mistake and try again. And, you may not accomplish your goal in the initial timeframe. Just remember, you aren’t running a race; you’re transforming your life. Whether you’re working on your physical fitness, your financial fitness, or some other life goal, you will likely need to work on it for the rest of your life.
Being kind to yourself may make it even more likely you’ll succeed in the long run as excessive stress and negative emotions are often tied to slipping up. 6 So, it’s important to release those emotions to positively move forward.
8. Buddy Up
One of the best things you can do when making a change is to find support and accountability! Finding someone who shares a similar goal can help you stay motivated and help you brainstorm through obstacles. 5 Plus, it’s a whole lot more fun to share your goals with like-minded friends, loved ones, or support groups.
9. Schedule Regular Motivation Sessions
When you first decide to make a change, you’re likely feeling motivated, excited, and ready to conquer the world. Then life happens, and confidence levels crash—especially in the face of obstacles, discomfort, and temptation.
Before your motivation starts to dwindle, schedule a weekly, biweekly, or even daily session to renew your motivation. Remind yourself why you’re making the change and all you have to gain by making the change. These little doses of inspiration can help you through tough times when you just want to hit the snooze button, take a long nap, or give up altogether.
These sessions can also give you a chance to check in on your progress, evaluate your habits, and make changes as necessary. If what you’re doing isn’t working, you can reevaluate your strategy and restructure your plan.
Setbacks and obstacles often keep people from reaching their goals. So set aside time to learn and adapt—and make plans for how to deal with challenges in the future—to help prevent you from relapsing or giving up to ultimately reach your goal.
10. Set Yourself Up for Success
Creating an environment for success is another way to set yourself up for success. Make bad habits—like snacking on junk food—inconvenient by keeping them out of the house or office. Then make good habits more convenient. For example, put cut-up veggies in the front of the fridge, so they’re the first thing you see when you go to the fridge. Or keep fresh fruit on your counter or in a bowl on your desk.
Set up your workout gear and pack your gym bag every night, so it becomes easy to go to the gym in the morning. Suppose you’re working on finances, set up an automatic savings account. If you want to improve your social life, put together a list of friends to reach out to and set reminders in advance.
Commit to 2022 Being the Best Year Yet
Even if you’ve been one of the many who have struggled with your New Year’s Resolutions in the past, you can make this year your best yet. Commit to making lasting change and then use the steps above to help you stick to your goals this year and for years to come.
And don’t forget to celebrate both your big and especially small achievements along the way!