New Year’s Resolutions: Where Are You in Meeting Your 2015 Goals?

New Year's Resolutions
Resolving to Write More—A Worthy Thought by Carol VanHook, Flickr Creative Commons;

Can you believe it? It’s now February. You are now almost a month into the spring semester. A month into your new classes, a month closer to graduation, and, for us graduate students out there, one month closer to obtaining your master’s, doctorate, or professional degree and entering the job market. You are now also a month into the New Year and potentially a month into your New Year’s Resolutions. Most of us do it. Actually, in a recent survey conducted by, over 60% of Americans reported that they make New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions to eat healthier foods, work out more, quit smoking, spend more quality time with friends and family, and resolutions to get organized, keep up with course readings, and get better grades. These are all great goals to work towards; however, we may not always stick with the goals long enough to meet them. Typically, almost all people (around 90%) are able to practice their New Year’s resolutions for a week but only about 70% of people stick with their resolutions for a month or longer. That leaves 1 out of every 3 people less likely to still be working on their New Year’s resolutions right now. But don’t fret! There are easy steps you can take to make sure you fall into the 70% instead of the 30%.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Before jumping into how to stick to your New Year’s Resolutions, let’s consider how to effectively set goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

  • Specific: Simply written and clearly defined

    SMART Goals
    Goal Setting by Paula Naugle, Flickr Creative Commons;
  • Measurable: Able to measure progress
  • Attainable: Goals are realistic and can be achieved
  • Relevant: Goals matter to you
  • Time-bound: Goals have a specific time frame for being met

An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal or resolution would be “I will go to the gym for one hour three times a week for the next four weeks.” The goal is clearly defined, measurable (three times a week for one hour each day), it is realistic, it matters to me, and I’ve set the time frame for my goal to four weeks. Using this strategy makes it more likely that you will both stick to your goals as well as achieve them.

Remind Yourself Why the Goal is Important To YOU 

Inspiration Board
Inspirational board by Moni, Flickr Creative Commons;

As time passes, it’s easy to lose sight of why New Year’s resolutions were ever made and why they are important to you. When you’re struggling to find the time and energy to go to the gym and cook balanced meals, it may become more difficult to keep in mind why eating healthier and exercising more were important to you before the New Year. Maybe there’s a pair of jeans you want to fit in, you want to have more energy, or there’s a special event coming up in a few months when you want to look and feel your best. Having physical reminders of your goals and the motivations for achieving those goals are a helpful way to keep yourself on track with your resolutions. This can include making inspirational boards—a creative way to visualize your goals and stay focused on why you set them in the first place.

Keep Yourself Accountable…and Invite Others to Do the Same

Telling yourself that you are going to be better organized this semester is one thing—having others remind you of that resolution is something different! This is where a good support system comes in. Having friends and family either remind you of the resolutions you had set back in December OR working along side you to meet those goals is an excellent way to keep you accountable. You’re less likely to break those resolutions if you have someone who cares about you reminding you of your goals.

With these steps, you cannot only make it pass this one-month mark—you can incorporate these short-term changes into your regular habits, turning New Year’s resolutions into lifetime behaviors.

Secrets to Sticking to Your Resolution!

Many people make New Year’s Resolutions. New year, new start. According to one study, only 12 % of resolvers actually keep their resolutions, and about half have abandoned them by the end of January.

The resolution that you set can play a big role in your chances of success. 

Do something you WANT to do.

People are motivated by what they want. Imagine: it’s Tuesday night and your friend has an extra ticket to the basketball game. You SHOULD study for that Chem test tomorrow morning, but you WANT to go to the game…what are you gonna choose?

When it comes to resolutions, don’t should on yourself! Make it something you WANT to do. Sometimes this involves reframing or refining your resolution to reflect your wants:

“I should exercise more” vs. “I want to join the intramural soccer team this semester”

“I should save more money” vs. “I want to be more financially independent”

Focus on behaviors not outcomes.

Losing weight often tops the list of most common resolutions. But a goal like this sets you up for failure, because losing weight is an outcome not a behavior. You have much more control over your behavior (e.g., what you eat and how much you exercise) than you do over outcomes like weight loss, so resolve to do (or not do) something you have control over.


Set small goals.

Really small goals.

Big behavior changes require high motivation that is difficult to sustain. Instead, consider tiny changes to make the new habit as easy as possible. Do something small and easy every day. You’re more likely to stick with a habit if you do a small version of it every day rather than big, deep versions of it one time each week.

Set yourself up for success.

Several strategies work well to maintain new habits.

  • Use friction to help yourself. Add friction to behaviors you want to avoid and remove friction from behaviors you want to maintain. Sleep in your workout clothes to make it easier to wake up and move. Choose a mini-habit that requires minimal equipment.
  • Include motivation. Create a reward system that works for you, and use it every step of the way. Add in social by doing your new behavior with a friend, or wait to announce your goal to your friends after you’ve been successful at working on it for a few weeks.
  • Stack your habits. Look for patterns in your day and connect new habits with existing ones.
  • Anticipate challenges. What might get in your way? How can you prepare to persist in those moments?
  • Fail forward. If you miss a day of your new habit or revert back to an old way of being, that’s no reason to call it quits on your goal for good. Give yourself a break, consider what hurdles got in your way, consider adapting your strategy or goal, and go after it again.

New Year’s Resolution check-in

So now that we’ve established that it’s not too late to make a resolution. What about the one’s you’ve already made? How are those New Year’s resolution going?

I’ve always found resolutions tough to keep. My picture-a- day plan from last year made it two weeks. My goal of folding and putting my clean clothes away as soon as they are dry failed within a month. And, yet, as a health educator, I believe that new habits can be formed – in essence, that people can change. Sometimes, that change comes with the social motivation of starting a resolution along with the hundreds of other new folks lining up for the machines at the SRC. Other times, all those extra people make sticking to a resolution even more challenging.

Here are some tips I use to change my habits:

Make it matter. A picture a day didn’t really matter to me, nor did I really want to commit to laundry being prioritized over a few more minutes outside or spent with my family. In order for my goals to stick, I need to pick one that I’m truly motivated to change.

Make the behavior small. I start by thinking about how this year I’d like to connect more with nature, eat healthier foods, get more fit, or spend more time with the people I love. Then I break those overarching ideas down into something smaller. The actual work to achieve my goal should be something that I do every day…or at least once per week. Some examples include spending time in the woods every week, exchanging one sweetened beverage (soda, juice, lattes) each day with water, walking or biking everywhere, or scheduling a weekly lunch date with a group of friends.

Allow time for each habit. It takes four weeks for new behaviors to become a tentative “habit.” And much longer to make that habit stick for a lifetime. Instead of trying three resolutions starting Jan 1, I try to create one new habit per month at maximum. So I might use January to stick to a sleep schedule, February to stick to that sleep schedule and incorporate strength exercises into each day (pause 2 times per day for pushups, crunches, lunges), and March to stick to a sleep schedule, incorporate strength exercises, and exchange the time I would be using a time-wasting website for reinvigorating a favorite hobby.

Reframe “I don’t have time.”  Every single one of us has the same amount of time – twenty-four hours each day. If I think to myself, “I don’t have time,” what I really mean is “I am not prioritizing my time for this.” So I try make my goal my top priority. If that goal is to be more active or cook more for myself at home or say yes to people, then I add that item to my daily planner first. Yes, there are other things in my life that I need to do – classes, work, etc. – but very few people are in class or at work every minute of their waking day. And if you are one of those rare folks, find a goal that you can do in those places (i.e. pause to take deep breaths every two hours, take the stairs whenever possible, pack a healthy lunch each day, etc.).

Be gentle. Even if I don’t end up achieving my goal for a full year or the rest of my life, if I enjoyed the attempt, it was worth it. My 14 days of pictures from last January still makes me smile, and the rare instances that I put my clothes away is one less time they are dumped on top of my dresser.

Do you have tips for sticking to your resolutions? Share them below – we love new ideas!