How to actually keep your New Year’s resolutions

We make resolutions all year round, and always on days that somehow mark a new beginning.

We make resolutions all year round, and always on days that somehow mark a new beginning. Photo: Getty

Every year brings the same old story.

It doesn’t seem to matter if you scribbled them on the back of an old envelope, or practised careful calligraphy in a new notebook – New Year’s resolutions tend to get broken.

But don’t feel bad.

According to research, about 80 per cent of people don’t follow through with their plans for a ‘new you’ for more than a week after New Year’s Eve.

So The New Daily asked experts in psychology and habit change how our readers could be among the rare people who manage to keep them.

Habit Change Institute director Dr Gina Cleo, who has a PhD in habit change, told The New Daily although it is understandable to seek a reset, there is no “magical fairy dust” when the clock ticks over at midnight on December 31.

“The turn of the year is literally just another day and you’re going to have the same levels of motivation that you had before. You’re going to have the same barriers, the same finances and resources,” Dr Cleo said.


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She said our brains can only change up to three things at one time, but we often aim to overhaul our entire lives each new year.

We want to lose weight, eat better, save more, get a better job, meditate and travel more all at the same time, she said.

“And what happens is we get really overwhelmed and when we’re overwhelmed, we tend to do nothing.”

Dr Cleo encouraged us all to rethink our resolutions this year, and to focus on the process rather than the results.

Here are her tips on how to create meaningful change in 2022.

  • Start small: Rather than setting too many goals or goals that are too big, start with one or two achievable goals that you can build on throughout the year
  • Micro-habits: When you have set your overall goals, break them into micro-habits. What are the small rituals you can introduce to help you achieve your desired results?
  • Eliminate barriers: Help ‘future you’ with a bit of planning. Take stock of the barriers that feel like ‘too much effort’ and remove them beforehand. For example, if you want to run more often, leave your sneakers by the door so you are more inclined to put them on. Make your habits easy to do
  • Attach a habit to a trigger: When you get in the car, you don’t have to think about putting on your seatbelt. It is already a habit, and the trigger is getting in the car. Set up your triggers like this: ‘When I… wake up, I will … drink water
  • Count the cost: No matter the goal, achieving it will take sacrifice – otherwise you would already be doing it. Sit down and work out what sacrifices you will be making and decide if it is worth it. Better sleep routines might mean fewer late-night TV sessions, but the payoff is improved health and alertness
  • Falling down: “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when”. When you fall down, pick yourself up as quickly as possible. Even doing a tiny version of the habit is better than doing nothing and will help you stay on track.

“Use the new year as a motivation,” Dr Cleo said.

“Just be fully aware that it’s not going to come with this magical fairy dust of motivation and self control.”

Choosing goals and self-reflection

Professor of psychology and mental health at Edith Cowan University Joanne Dickson told The New Daily another thing to keep in mind is how you set your resolutions.

This could be treated as an opportunity for self-reflection and to consider what stopped you from keeping them last time, she said.

The past year and the difficulties experienced during COVID-19 may have highlighted our sense of resilience and empathy and given us a deeper self-understanding.

“It may help us reappraise what is really important and what matters to us,” Professor Dickson said.

She recommends choosing goals that are driven by personal interests, values, and a deeper sense of motivation, as this has been shown to increase personal wellbeing and help us pursue our resolutions.

Setting goals such as ‘stop smoking’ might be a common resolution, but unless it is linked to a deeper personal desire and a reason to give up, it is likely to reappear on the same list next year.

Goals that are internally regulated and personally motivated – like a desire to quit smoking because of a health scare and wanting to improve one’s health – are​ more likely to sustain motivation.

People need to find their ‘why’.

“If people are wanting to stick with things, and to promote wellbeing, then understanding why you are pursuing something can be helpful,” she said.

Setting specific goals can also be helpful, as they provide mental cues and are also less mentally taxing than vague goals to pursue, she said.

For example, setting a time and a place to go for a regular walk each week is less mentally taxing than setting a goal ‘to walk regularly’.

The cues of time and place will assist in developing a habit and achieving the resolution.

Finally, although a specific goal is usually easier to follow, it is important to maintain a sense of flexibility if things don’t go to plan.

This could mean adjusting our resolutions if they are unrealistic, or adjusting how we approach or pursue a particular goal.

So try to be flexible rather than adopting an all-or-nothing attitude.

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