how to set real new years resolutions and keep them in

Resolutions are like destinations that you set on your GPS. You mainly focus on the arrival then it’s all over. People set resolutions for various goals such as weight loss, regular exercise, reading more, or quitting smoking. This can set people up for failure when they experience discouragement, forget, or simply get lost on the way to their destination.

Benefits of New Year’s Resolutions:

New Year’s resolutions can encourage motivated people to complete desired tasks and goals in the new year, particularly goals they did not complete or prioritize in the past year.

Many set resolutions because it’s a common tradition, not because they have the intrinsic need or motivation to actualize a goal. As a result, a majority of people often do not complete New Year’s resolutions (Norcross and Vangarelll, 1988). This isn’t because people don’t want self-improvement but rather a matter of setting intentions and exercising a mindful approach towards achievement. People who stick with and complete resolutions often report employing self-control, reinforcement (reward/relief), and willpower. Others who fall short of completing resolutions lack control over behaviors and decisions in addition to experiencing high stress and negative emotions (Norcross and Vangarelll, 1988).

Why Don’t New Year’s Resolutions Work?

Only about 9% of Americans complete their new year’s resolutions, 23% give up on their resolution in the first week of January, and 43% give up by the end of January (Batts, 2023). Without a deep, internalized need to change, people have a higher likelihood of giving up on their resolutions.

Upon setting New Year’s resolutions, little attention is paid to setbacks as people are filled with optimism and hope for the end-goal only. People may not consider the feasibility or how realistic the resolution is with respect to their life circumstances. If the resolution feels unrealistic, it’s best to break it down to small chunks or tangible short-term goals.

People may benefit from having a support system and community that will reinforce determination to stick with set resolutions. This will especially be helpful if setbacks discourage and challenge self-esteem.

When a resolution or goal feels overwhelming to complete, it is more likely to be procrastinated and dreaded thus leading to a sense of personal failing and inadequacy. Discouragement can further paralyze people from achieving resolutions. Therefore, once core values and enjoyable activities have been identified, the next step is to examine the overlap between them (e.g. “I enjoy going on walks with my family”). This final step intertwines values with enjoyable activities, reducing overwhelm and increasing motivation to pursue it.

holidays in recovery

Setting Intentions is Key

When people set intentions, they may include a mindful approach to leading a life that’s aligned with values and positive core beliefs. For example, instead of making a resolution to lose weight, people may set the intention to prioritize their health in their everyday decision making. This may include taking the stairs when possible, eating intuitively, or balancing portion sizes without shame or guilt. This will also optimize the chances and settings one can utilize to work towards core goals guided by intentions.

One study suggests that understanding why you want to do something and how you will achieve it can strengthen the motivation for actually pursuing it (Höchli, Brügger, Messner, 2019). For example, a goal might be to increase exercise in the new year. To support the goal, the recommendation would be to list why (e.g. to live healthier) and how (e.g. go jogging 3 times a week for 1 hour). This process combines setting an intention with tangible and realistic tasks.

An intention might also be thought of as a process rather than an outcome or destination. People may not arrive at their desired outcome for various reasons or if they do, they stop the pursuit and relapse back to where they started on January 1. When something is understood to be a process, the focus shifts to daily micro-goals building up to the desired outcome. To motivate behavior, it may be helpful to consider both abstract goals (asking why) and specific goals (asking how).

How to Set the Right Intentions: Follow These Steps

  • To begin setting intentions, start by identifying core values (e.g. Health, Family).
  • Then reflect on ordinary activities you enjoy doing (e.g. walking, cooking).
  • It is preferable to refrain from creating rigid goals or tasks (e.g. ‘I will go walking daily’) because when rigid goals are not met, the risk of shame and personal inferiority become disempowering for future actions.
  • Intentions do not need to be new, often scary tasks. Intentions may be things you are already doing, want to do more of, or may want to decrease in frequency.
  • If the intention involves a new experience, you may try to decrease overwhelm by visualizing or imagining yourself engaging in the new experience.
  • Ask yourself what may be added to your life by setting the intention and how the intention aligns with your self-identity.
  • Use affirmations and personalized mantras to reinforce your intentions and effort towards acting along your intentions.
  • It can be helpful to write down intentions on a small card and carry it in your wallet or post it visibly on your refrigerator to serve as a reminder.

(Lanehurst, 2022)
healthy habits for the new year

Welcome in the New Year

Nobody is perfect and mistakes are a part of life, no matter their size. Reflect on how you have transformed and describe the ways you want to continue transforming. How can you prepare and commit to the lifestyle you want? Where do you want to be in the new year during this time? Apologize, make amends, and correct your course now or in the new year if necessary. It’s never too late to be accountable and responsible. Learning from past failures, strive for a balance in work-life boundaries and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Adopt the mindset that new beginnings are possible. However the year is learning, it may have taught you something about yourself, others, or the world. All that has ensued over the past year has redirected you to where you need to be. Commit to your own growth and development. Set intentions with the mindset that it can advance and enrich your growth process. Reduce anger, shame, and guilt by letting go of resentments. Forgive yourself and others for what you didn’t know. Grieve the version of yourself you didn’t get to become in the past year. Remember that hindsight is 20/20 and you did your best, even if you may not fully believe it.



1. Batts, R. (2023, February 2). Why most New Year’s resolutions fail. Fisher College of Business.,fail%20at%20New%20Year’s%20resolutions

2. Höchli, B., Brügger, A., & Messner, C. (2019). Making New Year’s resolutions that stick: Exploring how superordinate and subordinate goals motivate goal pursuit. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 12(1), 30-52.

3. Kour, D. (2023, June 13). Pros and cons of resolutions. Jamron Counseling.

4. Lanehurst, R. (2022, January 4). Setting intentions for the new year. Psychology Today.

5. Norcross, J. C., & Vangarelli, D. J. (1988). The Resolution Solution: Longitudinal Examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1(2), 127-134.