New Year’s Resolutions – Part 1 of 2: Make a Resolution

How many New Year’s Resolutions have you made over the years?  How many have you kept?  Over 85% of people make a resolution.  By February 1st about 30% of people have already ditched the commitment, by July 1st 80% have given up, and only about 6% keep their resolution to the end of the year.  The first steps in keeping your resolution is to make a resolution that is specific and within reach.  In other words, don’t make it too difficult.  Part two of this series will be about strategies to keep your goal.  

Be Specific

I hear many people say they are going to “exercise more” or “eat healthier” this year.  I heard someone say “I’m going to play more golf with my dad this year.” These resolutions are too general.  Be specific in your goal, otherwise you’re really not making a commitment and significant change is unlikely.  

For instance, if you want to play more golf with your dad this year, consider how many times you played last year.  If you only played together twice, committing to at least 5 times is probably attainable, while 10 may be more difficult. Other examples of specific goals are: Exercise for at least 30 minutes three times/wk; Have the house clean before I go to bed at night; Read one book/month.

Make a specific plan to keep your resolution.  If the golf example were your resolution, you may decide to commit to the first Saturday of the month in April through October.  Instead, you might choose to write yourself a reminders to schedule at least one date the following month. 

Make it Attainable

Some people set their sights too high.  For example, someone who is sedentary and complains that they have no free time is unlikely to succeed with a New Year’s resolution to exercise for at least an hour daily. Three to four times/week for 30 minutes is much more attainable.  

Instead of promising yourself to have the house clean before you go to bed each night, you could decide that it will be clean every Sunday night.  Or you could commit to having one or two rooms clean before bed each night. Similarly, my successful resolution one year was to straighten the house for 10 minutes everyday. 

If you make a resolution that’s too difficult, you’re likely to join the ranks of the 80% who completely abandon their goal before July 1st.  It’s much better to succeed with a meager to moderate goal, than fail at a high goal.  For example, it’s better to have two rooms consistently clean than have your whole house clean for a couple of months only to abandon it and going back to a completely messy house.  

The key is being honest with yourself about what you think you will be able to do.  For instance, are you really going to count the number of carbs you ingest for the next 365 days?  Finally, remember that meeting just one resolution is going to be easier than trying to keep more than one.  If you insist on making more than one, the importance of keeping them simple and attainable is even more important.  Alternatively, prioritize your goals and start with the most important one.  If you’re able to keep that one, add one a month. 

Check in after the first of the year for advice on how to keep your New Year’s Resolution.


Jennifer L. Abel, Ph.D., Author of "Active Relaxation"