New Year, New Me? How to Make Resolutions that Last

Article By: Erica Mathis, Ph.D.

So you want to make some New Year’s resolutions? Setting New Year’s resolutions is a common practice for many individuals. We are bombarded with marketing at the end of each year that tells us we need to make a change – sales on fitness gear, advertisements for budget planners, discounts on memberships, and so on. Many people feel swept up in this marketing and/or feel pressure from themselves and others to set and achieve a goal. This is understandable – many people view a new year as a way to start fresh. If you want to make a resolution, let’s make sure that you set one that is meaningful to you and that lasts! To do this, we will explore three critical areas: mindset, values, and goals.

First, let’s talk about mindset. One of the first steps in making a lasting resolution is to take time to consider the motivation for developing the resolution. We want to approach this motivation with curiosity and compassion instead of judgment. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes to review the following questions with yourself. I strongly encourage writing down your answers. Challenge yourself to be completely honest. 

  1. When did I begin to consider this resolution for myself? 
  2. What emotions were present at the time I began considering this resolution? 
  3. What emotions are present now as I think of this resolution?
  4. What thoughts about myself arise as I think of this resolution? 

As you review your answers to these questions, consider how they are influencing your mindset about having a New Year’s resolution. Do you notice feelings like anxiety, sadness, shame, or guilt? Do you notice that your thoughts are particularly self-critical? If your answers to these questions are yes, then you may be approaching your resolution(s) from a place of deficiency, or feeling that you are not good enough. You may say to yourself, “Of course I feel that I am not good enough! That is why I am making a resolution!” This is one of the very first places you can experience a misstep in making a lasting resolution – approaching from a place of deficiency. Think about how you may feel if you make a resolution that comes from a place of deficiency and then you do not achieve your goal. Chances are, this will make you feel worse about yourself and possibly lead to labeling yourself as a failure. Shame does seem like a quick way to motivate ourselves. However, ask yourself this: If shame actually worked as a motivator for lasting change, wouldn’t it have worked for you by now? Here is where you can make a choice to approach your resolutions with a sense of empowerment and compassion instead. It may not seem like a big or important mindset shift, but this shift can truly make a large difference in you remaining excited for and motivated about your resolutions instead of feeling overwhelmed, confused, and defeated. If you are struggling with how to engage in self-compassion, check out these great self-compassion exercises.

Now that you have some of your top values in mind, you can begin to consider what goals you want to achieve. Let’s make this process even more simple – choose one value that you want to focus on. Choosing one value to focus on at a time can help ensure that you are setting a realistic goal for yourself and increasing the likelihood of feeling empowered and successful. It is tempting to set a lot of goals related to several values, but this can be a recipe for overwhelm and discouragement when the time comes to execute all of the goals. Now, take your one value and ask yourself this question: What do I want to look differently in my life so that I feel more closely aligned with my value of _______? The answer to this question should give you a good starting point for setting a goal, AKA your resolution. The point of answering this question for yourself is to identify in what ways you may want to make change for yourself – not change that is assigned by marketing, sales, feelings of deficiency, or other societal pressures. This is for YOU!

There are several ways to set goals. So, before diving fully into setting a goal, think about a goal you have achieved in the past. It can be any goal – there is no wrong answer here, nothing too big or too small. With that achieved goal in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What helped me reach this goal?
  2. What hindered my progress on this goal?

Hopefully the answers to these questions will give you even more insight into how you want to structure your goals (resolutions)! It is important to consider what has helped and hindered your progress so that you can incorporate this information into your current goal-setting process. For example, you may have found that accountability from a partner or friend was helpful in achieving a past goal. Alternatively, you may have realized that attempting to track several goals at once hindered your progress in achieving any one of the goals. This would also be important to consider in your current goal-setting process. 

Now that we have explored what you want to change and what factors may help or hinder you in achieving your goal, we can focus on setting a goal. One of the most popular and effective ways to set a goal is by using a system called SMART goals, which is an acronym for the following: 

  • Specific (What do you want to achieve? What will you do to reach this goal?)
  • Measurable (Is progress measurable? How will you know that you reached your goal?)
  • Achievable (Is this achievable with your current resources and skills?)
  • Relevant (Is this goal directly related to your value(s)?)
  • Time-Bound (What specific time-frame is needed to achieve the goal?) 

Using the SMART goals system can help you take a broad goal and make it focused and structured. This can be helpful as we often think that we are being specific with our goal, but then find it is difficult to decide which actions to take and how to determine if a goal has been reached. When our goal is too broad, it is easy to become overwhelmed or simply not prioritize the goal. Try it for yourself – take your answer to the question: “What do I want to look differently in my life so that I feel more closely aligned with my value of _______?” and apply the SMART goal system to it. Keep in mind the factors you identified as helping or hindering the achievement of your goal. Write down your answers. 

For some, using a system like SMART goals may seem overwhelming. If that is the case for you, it may actually be helpful to begin with a broader goal or intentions. This may seem antithetical to the statements about broad goals in the previous paragraph, but we have to consider the diversity in how our brains work. In other words, different approaches have varying degrees of success for different people. So, if creating SMART goals are overwhelming for you, consider utilizing a regular check-in with yourself to measure your alignment with your top values. For instance, you may want to spend time each week journaling about your values and goals. Consider these prompts: 

  1. In what ways have I been aligned with my top value this week? What areas can I focus on next week to be more closely aligned with my values?  
  2. What question/phrase/mantra can I give myself to check in on whether I am following my top values through my goals and decision-making?

The weekly time frame is simply a suggestion and may be altered to fit your needs. However, consider what frequency of check-in is reasonable for you. I would encourage you to be honest with yourself about the time and energy you can reasonably direct to each goal/resolution. Utilize some creativity and self-knowledge here. For instance, if you feel comfortable with using the SMART goals system and enjoy variety, maybe you could consider setting quarterly goals. This would mean that you may be able to work toward multiple goals in a year and not feel compelled to focus on any one goal for an entire year. 

Hopefully, the strategies in this blog have helped you gain more insight into what resolutions work for you. Above all else, trust yourself. If something seems off about the method you are using to set a goal, the goal itself, or how you are working on the goal, invest the time to check in with your thoughts and emotions. Use the insight from this check-in to make any changes that feel right for you. You may need to do this multiple times, and that is okay! You are not a failure if things need to shift and change – you are learning more about yourself. And that is a great resolution!

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