I Hereby Resolve…

New Year’s resolutions? Learn how 
to stick to the goals you set!


It’s that time again! A fresh new year full of promise—and promises. For many of us, January is a time for resolutions (and the months that follow are a time for falling back onto old habits). Why is changing our behavior so difficult? And what can we do to improve our odds of making those resolutions a reality?

Change Challenges. “Even when we know changing behavior is important to our health, we often struggle to make changes,” says Courtney B. Rogers, PhD, a behavioral health consultant and researcher with Cherokee Health Systems in Knoxville, Tennessee. “A wide variety of factors play into our willingness and ability to change.”

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of long-term success!

Setting Up for Success. An important step in making those resolutions a reality is setting the right goals in the first place. Experts offer the following guidance:

1. Tie your behavior change goal to your values. When resolutions are based on external motivators (for example, “the doctor told me I need to get my blood pressure down, so I’m going to eat less salt”), your motivation is more likely to wane over time. Instead, link your goal to what is most valuable in your own life. For example: “My dad had high blood pressure and died of a stroke. I want to be around longer to see my grandchildren grow up.”

2. Be focused and set a realistic timeline. Choose one behavior to focus on. Once that gets established, add another. “Small changes can set off a huge chain reaction,” Rogers says. Set a realistic deadline in the not-too-distant future. For example: “I am going to eat one more serving of fruit a day by the end of next month.”

3. Keep a record of your progress. Research has shown tracking your progress increases your chances of success.

4. Find support. Ask family or friends to join or support you in pursuing a goal or join a group of likeminded people.

5. Have a plan. Identify potential barriers so you can problem solve in advance. For example, if you want to go to the gym after work, will you change at the gym or go home first? If you go home, will you get distracted and not leave? If you’re not going home, what can you do so you remember to bring your workout clothes on gym days?

6. Have self-compassion. If a change attempt doesn’t go the way you wanted, use that as an opportunity to improve your approach. Beating yourself up about it is often counterproductive to successful long-term change.


Focus your goal. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! Set a goal that is as specific and focused as possible.

Have a timeline. Set a reasonable date for achieving your goal: realistic, but not too far into the future.

Track progress. Whether in a journal or electronically, keep track of your progress.

Find support. Invite friends or family to join you (or support you) in your goals.

Look for internal motivation. Make a change because it gets you closer to something that’s important to you, not because an outside source says you should.

Behavior change is not easy! Setting the right goals can help you keep those resolutions this year.


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