How To Make Resolutions Stick 

Now that it is March, I’m wondering  how your 2021 are resolutions going? It’s likely that some of them have already fallen off the wagon and you are wondering what went wrong, again, with your resolutions. 

Many of us fall into the cycle of making a resolution or setting a goal, hitting a roadblock and then completely throwing in the towel – or, even worse – swinging to another extreme.

Here’s an example: In December, you indulged in Christmas cookies and your favorite foods, let exercise slide and stayed up later than you normally would.

Perhaps you gained some weight. Come January 1st, you resolved to eat well, exercise more and hit the sack at a reasonable time. You probably muscled through it for a while. But, then it was a family member or friend’s birthday. And you gave in to one cupcake, and then a few more. You felt the guilt and shame of not sticking to your goal.

That shame gave rise to more sweets the next day and before you knew it you not only gave up your goals, but also felt really bad about yourself. 

Sound familiar? Most of us can relate to this scenario in some way. Simply bringing the pattern into awareness is a good place to start with transforming it. There is a place where you can build new habits that are long-lasting without feeling the tug of deprivation and restriction. 

Because here’s the thing: behavior change is hard. It’s very easy to use the coping tools and habits that you already have in place and it takes some effort and time to build new pathways in the brain. In today’s article you will learn more about strategies to transform your life by building new habits. 

Keep reading to learn:

  • Do resolutions really work?
  • Dr. Shippy’s tips for making resolutions stick 

Let’s get started! 

Do New Year’s Resolutions Work?

Resolutions are a tradition in the United States. We see the new year as a fresh start, an opportunity to make up for mistakes of the past and get on a positive track.

We often reflect upon aspects of the previous year that may not have served us and also pinpoint areas that we’d like to change. While the idea behind new year’s resolutions is beautiful, many, if not most of us don’t stick to the changes. 

According to various surveys, 40 to 50 percent of people make an annual resolution. What’s the top category of resolutions? Health, weight loss and diet. We want to change our health and our body and we turn our focus to the latest diet trends, gym memberships and other tools. January is certainly the busiest time for the health industry. 

Of those who make resolutions, the majority (and up to 80 percent by some accounts) fail in the first 30 days, with even more dropping off throughout the year. Only a small percentage of people feel that they’ve achieved their goal by year’s end. What are those people doing that the rest of us aren’t? 

Let’s explore some of the possible ways to transform your goals so they work better for you!

Dr. Shippy’s Tips for Making Resolutions Stick

Tip 1: Consider The Type Of Goal And Accountability 

In a recently published study, participants were divided between three groups where the first group received little support and acted as a control and the other groups received a higher level of support and education, along with more frequent check-ins on their goal.

It was no surprise that the groups that received more support were also more likely to have achieved their goal by year end.

This could be as simple as having an accountability buddy that you periodically check in with regarding your progress. And it also corroborates why hiring a trainer, exercising with a group or making diet change along with your family might be helpful instead of going at it alone. 

The study also showed that those who set approach-oriented goals versus avoidance-oriented goals were more successful. Approach-oriented goals are additive, such as “I will eat 5 servings of vegetables per day” or “I will walk for 20 minutes after dinner.” Avoidance-oriented goals are about removing foods or habits such as “I will quit smoking” or “I will quit sugar.”

So the moral of this study is to work on adding in positive health behaviors before subtracting, and having support and accountability along the way. 

Tip 2: Take A Tiny Habit Approach

When it comes to goal setting, it’s common to bite off more than we can chew. We tend to hold on to a big outcome that we’d like to see, but miss all of the small steps that it takes to get there. 

We start out with motivation, a change in the year and then rely largely on willpower to get us there. We muscle through the long workout or those first days on a low calorie diet, but the truth is that willpower is a finite resource.

It will always run out and at some point, our biology will take over. The body will say that it needs rest or more food and before you know it that’s exactly what is happening. Instead of making a large sweeping change, for many of us creating small, achievable habits is an important first step to build upon. 

Professor BJ Fogg at Stanford University has spent his career understanding behavior change and developed a tiny habit approach for setting, and achieving, goals.

He’s focused on how you can use your existing habits and your environment to your benefit for stair stepping to the outcome you desire. His approach really works! You can find more about this approach and free resources here

Some tiny habits you could start with that are pretty low risk (and have big benefits) are:


Tip 3: Let Go Of The All-Or-Nothing Mentality 

This tip is all about mindset. You don’t need to be either off sugar or binging on sugar. You don’t need to be either a couch potato or a triathlete. You don’t need to be the perfect healthy eater or only eating junk food. In all of these cases, there is certainly a realistic and reasonable middle ground. But, that takes getting comfortable in the grey area and moving away from this all-or-nothing mentality. 

Take the example from the beginning of this article. You set yourself up with a restrictive diet, couldn’t stick to it, felt the guilt and shame and then swung completely in the other direction with overeating sweets. In this case, there is no middle ground and this cycle perpetuates the all-or-nothing approach. You are either on the diet or off, but nothing in between. 

Make a conscious shift in your thought pattern that there is no “on” or “off” the wagon. Instead, tell yourself that every day is a new day to nourish your body with real, whole foods that bring both health and pleasure into your life.

If once in a while you decide that a dessert or treat is worth it, or even if you make an impulsive food choice, that’s part of being human!

Allow yourself room to thoroughly enjoy that choice, and move on. Going down the road of guilt and shame is not helpful, and it often leads to more unhealthy or unwanted choices.

So when it comes to transforming the all or nothing approach, get comfortable with the in-between grey area, explore what works for your body and allow food to help you feel how you desire to feel. This will move you away from a dieting mentality and into sustainable lifestyle change. 

This also means that when things don’t seem to be working, it’s a wonderful time to reflect and pause, instead of giving up and throwing in the towel. 

Tip #4: Be Kind To Yourself Along The Way

Life is a journey and not a destination. Often we may be so focused on the weight loss or the end goal that we aren’t paying attention to all of the magic that happens along the way. Consider that each setback or step off course is a wonderful opportunity to connect more deeply with yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, ask: “what did I learn from that experience?” and “what can I do differently next time?”

From the perspective of the brain, when you do something new, it builds new brain connections and each time you practice the new skill or habit, it reinforces the pathway.

Over time, as the pathway becomes stronger, the habit becomes easier. You’ve likely experienced this before, that with practice, catching a baseball or playing the piano requires much less thought and effort because your body just knows how to do it. 

The same process is true when it comes to health habits and it explains why making changes to your diet, exercise or lifestyle routine can at first feel annoying, uncomfortable and simply not great. But over time, it will get easier and require less conscious effort. 

Understanding this process of habit building helps increase self-compassion when you take a step back. And note that two steps forward, and one step back is very normal when creating a new habit! An alternative to just giving up because it’s hard is to explore what happened, adjust if needed and then continue on your way.

In fact, increasing  inner kindness is a new habit in and of itself for many of us and one that could use some practice. It’s always the right time to set a new goal and one of practicing kindness will certainly help any health issue you are focused on.  

While a new year’s resolution may not have a large impact on your long-term health, especially if you don’t complete it, some of these other strategies likely will.

Start with small habits, realistic changes and connecting with yourself more deeply through the process. Over time, you’ll have sustainable lifestyle progress and will feel great about it!