How are those New Year’s Resolutions going? If you’ve made it this far, and the resolutions are still going strong, you’re defying the odds. Statisticians say that Jan. 12 is when the majority of people get derailed from their resolutions. In fact, this is so common that the day has become known as “Quitter’s Day.”
But what if we told you that the key to sticking to your resolutions, or any goal, really, is to go a little easier on yourself? Experts say that when you take the pressure off, and focus on small changes, you’re more likely to reach bigger goals.
For instance, if you eagerly started 2024 with a long list of super ambitious New Year’s resolutions, psychologists and wellness experts say you could be setting yourself up for failure.
“Having a number of goals doesn’t translate into better results—in fact, this can lead to overwhelm,” explains Aura De Los Santos, a clinical psychologist and educational psychologist at E-Health Project. “When a person sets too many goals, they may feel tired and have a hard time focusing because they are doing multiple things at once.”
Ahead, experts share their best tips and tricks for achieving your New Year’s Resolutions for once and for all.
Get Specific with Your Goals
Have you ever seen those surveys about the most common New Year’s resolutions? Goals like getting in shape, getting organized or eating better often top the lists as the most popular resolutions. While those are all admirable resolutions, they often don’t work because they’re not specific enough, experts say.
Instead of setting a broad goal such as “I want to get fit,” try something like: “I intend to go to the gym three times a week for 45 minute sessions,” suggests James Cunningham, a complete health optimization coach with Total Shape.
Or, instead of "I want to lose weight," aim for something more specific and measurable, such as "I want to lose 10 pounds in 3 months."
“It gives you a clear target to work towards,” Cunningham says. “Break down your big goals into smaller, manageable tasks, and celebrate those small victories. It's all about progress, not perfection.”
Get Clear on Your ‘Why’
Setting a goal becomes more meaningful when you can establish the “why” behind it, explains Virginia Acosta, general manager at The Canyon Ranch Wellness Club, which opened late last year in The Crescent Hotel, Fort Worth complex.
“Willpower isn’t enough; you’ve got to know your ‘why,’ and once you do, it’s so much easier to know what will be required to meet your goal,” Acosta says.
Understanding the “why” will be unique to you. If you start to lose momentum, you can reflect on your purpose of the goal in the first place to get back on track. It can also help you prioritize your goals to make sure they’re in alignment with your “why.”
Set Micro Goals
A key to achieving resolutions is to set small, attainable goals for yourself, says Anne Harriger, a group fitness instructor at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena.
“When you hit a milestone, you are more motivated to stick to your new routine,” Harriger says. “Eventually, small achievements become big accomplishments.”
For instance, if your goal is to get back in the gym, rather than resolving to go to the gym every single day and work out for an art, start by showing up a few times a week and doing 20-minute workouts, Harriger says, then build on that goal.
Afterall, doing too much too fast can also lead to injuries, sidelining you from your fitness goals altogether.
The same type of micro-goal approach applies to eating healthy.
Dr. Rachel Paul, Ph.D., R.D., who runs the College Nutritionist, says New Year’s resolutions don’t work when they don’t have a specific and actionable plan. The way to trick yourself into achieving resolutions is start with one small goal, such as eating a high-protein breakfast every morning. Once you’ve done that for a week, add another goal, like making sure each of your meals has protein, fat and fiber. Once that’s second nature, adding your next goal, like choosing sauces with less added sugar. By the end of the year, you’ll have developed lots of healthy habits that can lead to sustainable weight loss, she explains.
Be Patient with Your Goals
Habits aren’t formed overnight. In fact, it can take several weeks (even months) to successfully develop a habit, according to researchers.
A 2021 study published in the “British Journal of Health Psychology” found that it takes people 59 days for a nutrition habit to feel like it's on auto-pilot. But another study from the “European Journal of Social Psychology” found that developing a new habit can range by individual, with it taking anywhere between 18 to 254 days to feel like it's second nature.
Create Positive Goals
Resolutions shouldn’t feel punitive, and they rarely work when we feel like we’re depriving ourselves.
“Focus on moving your body more, eating foods that are nutritious and practicing mindfulness rather than restricting or punishing yourself,” Harriger says.
Remember, she says, change is a process, and it helps to be patient with your results.
Harriger also says we’ve been going through a global movement with value placed on living longer, fuller lives.
“In the past few years, I’ve seen a shift in fitness and wellness resolutions moving away from just the physical results and gravitating towards true happiness and self-love,” she says.
Start Your Resolutions Whenever Works Best for You
In recent years, there’s been a bit of an “anti-resolution” shift in culture. Days are shorter in January and we’re getting back in the swing of routines after a long holiday season, so it may not make sense for you to be on a resolution regimen at the start of the year when it feels overwhelming.
“Resolutions are often set in January, which is the heart of winter, a time that instinctively we tend to turn inward,” Harriger says. “It’s OK to start slow and listen to your body. Just do your best and take it one step at a time.”
If now doesn’t feel like the right time to set resolutions, try goal setting in the spring when you feel more recharged.