This is the year you’re determined to finally change some of your less-than-desirable habits. If you’re among the 40% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, congratulations! Here’s how to stick to a New Year resolution. These tips come from Beth Frackleton, a national board-certified health and wellness coach. At UVA Heath, she helps people with chronic illnesses make healthy changes.
“Throughout the year, it’s important to practice self-compassion,” Frackleton says. “You’ll likely go a week or more when you don’t meet your goals. Instead of being a harsh critic, respond to yourself as you would to a good friend. This will motivate you to get back on track.”
She adds, “It’s helpful to stay positive and focus on what’s working well!”
Expert Tips on How to Stick to a New Year Resolution
To see lasting change, you have to do more than just make a resolution. Research suggests only about 8% of Americans stick with their resolutions by year-end. In fact, there’s a National Quitters Day held on the second Friday in January. It fell on January 13th this year. It is challenging to make behavioral changes for more than a few days or a few weeks.
If you don’t want to be among the vast majority of people who let their well-intentioned resolutions fall by the wayside, here’s some insight on why it’s tough to stick to New Year resolutions — and how you can make it more likely you’ll be successful.
1. Focus on Small Steps
Don’t be unrealistic about the habits you want to change or the goal you set. When you set small, attainable goals, you’re more likely to stick with your New Year resolution. Here's why: You'll stick with what you have to do to reach those goals. For example, it’s overwhelming to decide on January 1st you’re going to lose 50 pounds. Instead, focus on losing 5 or 10 pounds. When you achieve that goal, set another.
2. Define Your Goal
It’s difficult to change your habits when your goal is open-ended. Make your goal specific and measurable so you can track your progress and make tweaks as needed. For example, instead of proclaiming you’re going to work out more this year so you can lose weight, plan to walk after dinner 3 times a week for 20 minutes each.
3. Write Down Your Goals
People are 42% more likely to achieve goals just by writing them down, studies have shown.
4. Know Your “Why”
It’s important to know why you’re making a change in order to stick to your New Year’s resolution. In other words, what value will the behavioral change add to your life? This will help with your focus and motivation.
Resolved to Improve Your Health This Year?
Talk to a primary care provider about your health goals.
5. Plan Ahead to Stick to New Year Resolution
Often, resolution-makers get caught up in the goal setting but not necessarily the goal planning. If you want to sustain your habit changes, lay out the specifics of how you’re going to achieve your goals.
For example, want to eat healthier at work? Then on Sunday, plan to shop for groceries, meal-prep, and package healthy lunches and snacks. That way they’re ready to grab when you’re on your way out the door.
6. Visualize Your Goals
If you “see” your goal, you’re more likely to achieve it, research has shown. Envisioning your life as though you have reached your goals can help make them more achievable. The use of vision boards and vision statements can be helpful. They can help give you a clear direction of where you want to go and help you stick to a New Year resolution.
7. Celebrate “Small Wins”
Small wins can be things like:
- Getting your daily steps in
- Eating a piece of fruit, etc.
Changing habits over the long term is hard work. As you make changes or meet short-term goals, recognize how far you’ve come. Then reward yourself for the work you’ve done. For example, after you lose those first 10 pounds, buy yourself a new workout outfit to celebrate the achievement. It may just inspire you to keep moving forward.
8. Seek Social Support
Surround yourself with people working on similar goals. This can have a huge positive impact on helping you meet your goals.
Reset to Stick to Your New Year Resolution
You'll have ups and downs along the way of trying to stick to your New Year resolution. Change is not linear. When things don't go as planned, ask yourself:
- What did I learn about myself?
- What would I do differently next week?
These learning opportunities are a necessary part of sustainable change. Enjoy the journey.
Now that you know how to stick to your New Year’s resolution, these good habits will likely continue for many years to come.