New Year Resolutions – Five Strategies That Work

New Year's resolutions

Note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and updated in December 2020.

When it comes to New Year resolutions, so many people fail at keeping them that it’s a surprise that anyone still bothers to make them in the first place.

According to research, 80% of people give up on their New Year resolutions by February.  That’s right, four out of five people will drop their grand aspirations for a better life just 30 days into the year. 

What’s even more striking is the fact that only 8% of people end up accomplishing the goals they’ve set out for themselves in January.

Depressing stats, aren’t they?  Almost worse than the odds of England ever winning the World Cup again.

England at the World Cup - every time

But what if there was a better way? 

A way to improve the odds of actually getting to the finish line?  To break out of the vicious cycle of “set-fail-give-up” that seems to hound most people? 

And to actually have fun along the journey instead of feeling like a total loser?

As it turns out, there is.  And surprisingly, the primary component in the secret sauce is actually taking it easier on yourself. 

So if you are looking to make 2021 the year when you finally buck the trend, read on. 

How To Finally Hack Your New Year Resolutions

Strategy #1: Stage Them

Over the years, I’ve come to understand one important thing about resolutions (and life more generally).

If you try to do everything at the same time, you will most likely fail.   

After all, if you had to run a 10k race, would you just go for it right off the bat?   Or would you stretch, warm up, and break into a slow jog first before finding your stride? 

New Year resolutions are no different.  Yet for some mysterious reason, January 1st will see millions of people wake up and attempt to make a drastic U-turn in their lifestyle. 

In doing so, they are setting themselves up for an inevitable disappointment.  Life simply doesn’t work this way. 

Next year, try something different.

Let’s say your three resolutions are to start going to the gym four days a week, to lose 10 pounds, and to stop smoking.

Sorry to break the bad news, but if you try to go for it guns blazing on January 1st, you will fail. 

You can have the willpower of a Tibetan monk and you still won’t get there.  

Instead, try something different.  

Pick one resolution – just one – and focus 100% of your energy and efforts on it for the first three months. 

That’s right.  Forget about trying to lose weight.  Keep on smoking as much as your heart desires.  But whatever you do, make sure to stick to your gym routine as if your life depended on it.

By doing so, you’re giving yourself a much better chance of creating a new habit of going to the gym.  Once it becomes an ingrained part of your routine, going to the gym will no longer require as much mental exertion. 

That, in turn, will allow you to redeploy your energy and focus on knocking the second resolution off your list.  And once you’ve got the first two down, you’ll have so much momentum that the third goal will pretty much take care of itself. 

Strategy #2: Start Slow

There is something else you can do to give yourself an even greater chance of achieving your resolutions.  It’s called starting slow. 

Even the most experienced athletes don’t just jump back in with a full-blown workout routine after an injury or an illness. 

So why would you do that to yourself if you’ve never been to the gym in your entire life?

Continuing with the example above, let’s say you want to build a sustainable workout routine. 

You can start by going to the gym just once in the first week.  Then, slowly build up from there and you’ll be hitting your stride in about a month.

Not only your body will thank you for it, but you will also give yourself a much better chance of staying the course.

Strategy #3: Cut Yourself Some Slack

One of the biggest reasons people fail at keeping their New Year’s resolutions is something I call binary thinking.  It typically manifests itself in an “all or nothing” attitude:

Didn’t stick to your budget last month?  Might as well give up and go shopping! 

Went overboard on desserts last night?  Bring on the full English breakfast!

When I was in my mid-twenties, I wanted to quit smoking. 

By that point in time, I had been smoking for about 7 years and was up to about half a pack a day.  I knew that quitting was always going to be tough – so I decided to go easy on myself. 

At first, I just couldn’t resist smoking when out with my friends.  But instead of giving up completely the following morning, I simply dumped whatever cigarettes I had left. 

Simply not lighting up the next day was already a victory.  

And while I didn’t have a 100% track record, my nicotine dependency was getting weaker by the day. 

Then, when I just about kicked the habit, I went on holiday – and ended up smoking every single day.  Once again, I decided not to crucify myself for it.  Instead, I simply avoided smoking when I got back home. 

All in all, it took me about three years to quit smoking altogether.  About six years later I actually started finding the smell of second-hand smoke repulsive. 

I have now been smoke-free for well over a decade, but I would never get here if I strived for perfection instead of just trying to be good enough on any given day. 

Acknowledging relapses as a necessary part of the journey is an incredibly powerful tool. 

Treat them as temporary setbacks on the way to success, not discrete events that cause you to give up on your goals and aspirations.  

Strategy #4: Create The Right Environment

They say you are the average of five people you spend the most time with.  That exact statement may or may not be true. 

What is true, however, is that your environment has an outsized impact on your lifestyle and habits.

Let’s face it – if you are looking to save more money, going shopping with that reckless spender friend of yours probably won’t help. 

Likewise, cutting back on alcohol consumption is easier when you opt to go to a museum instead of a pub crawl (not that we’ve had many pub crawls in 2020!)

And losing weight will be so much harder if your roommate just keeps loading up the fridge with junk food. 

If you are trying to kick a habit or put a new one in place, it may be worthwhile taking a critical look at the people in your social circle. 

You don’t have to break friendships just for the sake of achieving your New Year resolutions.  But being selective for a few weeks or months can go a long way. 

After all, it is probably best not to be distracted while you are trying to do that U-turn on a busy road, isn’t it? 

Don’t let this happen to your New Years resolutions

Strategy #5: Don’t Wait Until The New Year!

Life is short.  You might not have nearly as much time left as you think.   So why give yourself just 60 or so shots at the goal? 

One of the biggest reasons people wait until January 1st is because they realize that they have set the bar way too high. 

They know it’s going to be a struggle.  So they wait. 

They wait for a new beginning, that magical day that will somehow infuse them with energy and give them the momentum they are looking for.

Well, guess what?  Symbolism aside, January 1st is just like any other day of the year

You probably won’t feel any more energetic than you usually do.  As a matter of fact, you will probably feel hungover and depressed. 

Would you attempt to run a triathlon in that physical and mental state?  Neither would I. 

So do yourself a favour.  Don’t wait until January 1st to set your new year resolutions. Even more imprortantly, don’t push yourself beyond your limits. 

Instead, start slow and easy.  Focus on just one goal – but whatever you do, just don’t give up.

You’ll be surprised how far you will get. 

Thank you for reading – and good luck!

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2 thoughts on “New Year Resolutions – Five Strategies That Work”

  1. An excellent article. I wholly agree with your last point. Deferring goal setting until January gives you a free pass to sabotage the rest of the year.

    I’ve found it helpful to leave myself room to continually reassess my goals. Everything is so fast paced, so it can be easy to miss targets, or perhaps they were too adventurous in the first place. For this you have to be a naturally driven person though.

    1. Agree with that. Reassessing only works if you are able to sign up for more ambitious goals in addition to scaling back on unachievable ones.

      Though to be honest, when I hear some NYE resolutions, it often feels like folks have decided to become nothing short of superhuman – all in the span of 12 months.

      No wonder reality hits like a wall of bricks come February… much better to set sights low and knock it out of the park if you ask me

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