A new year means a new you, right? So, as the calendar flips to 2023, you’ve made some resolutions to guide the way. Maybe it’s a pledge to eat healthier, exercise more or drop a few pounds.
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Whatever the resolution, odds are it’ll sound familiar.
“People tend to set the same exact resolution year after year,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD. “It really shows that there is a gap between what we do and what we want.”
So, how can you make this year’s resolutions stick? Dr. Albers has some ideas.
What is a New Year’s resolution?
A resolution is a personal goal and promise to yourself. A “new year” serves as a temporal landmark, or point in time, to break from past habits and start a new behavior. It’s the perfect opportunity for a fresh start.
It’s hardly a new concept, either. Historians credit the ancient Babylonians with starting the tradition of making resolutions to mark a new year.
Common New Year’s resolutions
National polls offer a window into what Americans most want to change about themselves. Looking back over the past few years, the most common resolutions involved:
- Being a better person. Did you know that helping others can be good for your health?
- Eating healthier. Check out these healthy diets.
- Exercising more. Try these tips to start a workout routine.
- Losing weight. Consider these strategies for successful weight loss.
- Quitting smoking. Here are seven ways to kick the smoking habit.
How to make New Year’s resolutions
Let’s start with this fact of life: Change is a process.
“It is not like a light switch,” cautions Dr. Albers. “Many of the behaviors linked to resolutions involve activities or habits that you’ve had for years. Give yourself some time to adapt and make changes.”
So, as you go about setting a New Year’s resolution, keep these seven tips in mind to select and achieve your goal.
1. Focus on starting a behavior
Research indicates that it’s much easier to start a behavior than to stop one.
“So, if you want to eat healthier, set a goal to increase your fruit and vegetable intake,” says Dr. Albers. “That’s going to put you on a better path to success than vowing to avoid processed foods or not eat sugar.”
2. Set ‘liveable’ goals
Setting a goal that isn’t sustainable sets the stage for failure. Your resolution should reflect an activity or behavior you can do long term.
“For example, fad dieting isn’t something you can realistically keep up,” says Dr. Albers. “You’re better positioned for success if you focus on something like mindful eating, where you can focus on sustainable behaviors based on food choices and how and when you eat.”
3. Be specific yet flexible
It’s important to set small, actionable and realistic goals that are well-defined.
“Resolutions should be concrete,” states Dr. Albers. “So, instead of making a broad resolution to ‘exercise more,’ make a specific goal that you want to walk for 20 minutes a day. Give yourself an achievable target.”
Do give yourself some wiggle room, though, and be willing to adjust. (Can’t exercise 20 minutes a day? Then target 15 minutes!)
“Be flexible and forgiving,” she adds. “That can help you avoid feeling frustrated later.”
4. Identify obstacles
What’s getting in the way of your resolution? Odds are you already know what could be a potential pain point, whether it’s a physical obstacle (such as time) or an emotional obstacle (such as fear).
“Identifying obstacles right from the start can help you plan and be successful,” says Dr. Albers.
5. Get a buddy
One of the top predictors of success for keeping your resolution involves social support. So, find a family member, friend or a professional (such as a health coach) who can help keep you on track.
Consider a group resolution, too. Example: A family that pledges to sit down together for dinner at least once a week.
“This gets everyone involved and engaged,” says Dr. Albers. “You can all work together.”
6. Give yourself reminders
Make sure you’re regularly thinking about your resolution. Post reminders on your refrigerator door or bathroom mirror to keep it fresh and in front of your mind.
“Our minds are busy and active,” notes Dr. Albers. “It’s easy to set a goal and forget it quickly.”
7. Keep data
Consider keeping a journal or tracking your progress on an app. If your goal is focused on exercise, for instance, there are numerous apps to log your activity. Ditto for food-based resolutions.
“Keeping data not only helps you track your progress, but it can also help you on days where it’s not going well,” says Dr. Albers. “Looking back over time to see how you’re doing can help keep you motivated.”
What if you fall short of your goals?
Here’s a realistic expectation regarding your New Year’s resolution: There may be times when you break it.
One study found that nearly 1 out of 4 resolution makers couldn’t maintain their new behavior past a week. One month into the new year, almost half of the participants had already given up on their goals.
So, it happens. But if you encounter struggles, don’t give up! Instead, focus on getting back on track and not beating yourself up over a misstep.
“Be kind and compassionate toward yourself,” encourages Dr. Albers. “Change takes time. Just keep going and be persistent. Come back to your goal and give yourself an opportunity to make changes in small and achievable ways.”
So, here’s to a new you in a new year. Good luck.