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January 5, 2022

7 Secrets to Making Resolutions Work

Written by Dr. Gia Marson

With the new year here, you might be thinking about your resolutions–whether you’ll keep them or maybe just give up. Consider that resolutions can be a great way to evaluate where you’re at in life and where you want to be in the future. Healthy resolutions can provide a great incentive to engage in healthier behaviors. So if you are struggling already or think you might in a month or two, this guide will help your resolutions actually stick this year.

Why make a resolution?

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
—Pablo Picasso

As 2022 rolls around, it’s natural to think of the upcoming year as an opportunity to restart, refresh, and reevaluate your goals and aspirations. Many people take this opportunity to mark the new year with resolutions, and provided that they’re healthy and productive, they can be a great way to focus on healthy behaviors.

By focusing on your values, you can set resolutions that can get you closer to the person you want to be.

What’s the difference between a resolution and a goal?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
—Annie Dillard

When planning your resolutions, it’s easy to get confused about the difference between a resolution and a goal. Essentially, a resolution is a decision to do or not do something, while a goal is the desired outcome. For example, your goal might be to run a marathon one day, so your resolution is to run once a week.

Goals and resolutions can be the same, but because of the general lofty aspirations that come with goals, breaking down your resolution into an achievable task that contributes toward your goal might be more helpful. Goals can inform your resolutions, but keeping your resolutions challenging yet achievable can help you to achieve your desired outcomes.

How to stick with your resolutions

“how to lead yourself: 1. develop a relationship with your intuition 2. have the courage to follow its guidance”
—yung pueblo

Setting your resolutions is the exciting part, full of all the wonder and promise of future success. But when reality hits, they can be a little hard to stick with. Here are seven tips to help you meet your resolutions over the long term.

1. Keep it simple

Being gung ho about resolutions is great. But it’s important to not get too ambitious. Set one clear resolution instead of several. This will allow you to focus your attention in one direction and make success more likely.

2. Set achievable resolutions

Setting a resolution that you’re extremely unlikely to achieve will only set you up for disappointment. For example, if you’ve never run before, then deciding you’re going to run a marathon in a month is unwise. Setting a specific, attainable resolution instead (e.g., exercising more) can help you to stay on track.

3. Approach, don’t avoid

Research has found that resolutions that require an approach (e.g., I will eat three balanced meals every day) tend to be more successful than resolutions that require you to avoid something (e.g., I will stop binge eating).

4. Create values-based resolutions

Our values are the guiding principles behind who we are, how we act, and who we want to be. So if you want to live and act in a way that factors in what matters most to you, create resolutions that are based on your values. Instead of binary goals, you’ll be creating resolutions that can help define how you act and what you prioritize.

5. Cut yourself some slack

When starting a new resolution, it’s important to be kind to yourself and realize that you’re likely to falter throughout the process. Success is rarely linear, so don’t worry if you find yourself off course every now and then. By applying a bit of self-forgiveness, you’ll be more likely to jump back on course and toward your goal.

6. Record your efforts

Resolutions are often undertaken over a long period of time, so it’s important to track your progress and efforts along the way. Writing down the effort you put in and the outcomes that resulted can be a great motivational tool if you’re ever doubting the process.

7. Build in nudges

No matter your resolution, building in positive reminders, removing negative ones, and creating easy opportunities to engage can make a difference in whether you succeed. Here are some examples of helpful nudges:

  • If concentration is a barrier to getting things done, remove distractions from your environment.
  • If your nerves are a barrier to your resolution, have calming remedies on hand, such as a one-minute guided meditation on your phone.
  • Put an inspirational sticky note about health on your bathroom mirror.
  • Leave reminders or supplies for your resolution where you will easily notice them during free time.
  • Establish time in your calendar for working on your resolution.
  • Write out why you want to follow through on your resolution and place it by your biggest distraction (e.g., a tv remote, gaming controller, laptop, book, or phone).
  • Tell a friend about your resolution and check in weekly about your progress.

Using these tips can help you keep yourself accountable. In turn, it’ll be easier to make progress toward your resolution. Remember that motivation often comes in waves. On days when your motivation is lowest, take the easiest step. When you are feeling inspired, do something more challenging. Change is a dynamic process. You’ve got this.

“I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.”
—Venus Williams


Kelly, M. P., Heath, I., Howick, J., & Greenhalgh, T. (2015). The importance of values in evidence-based medicine. BMC medical ethics, 16(1), 69.

Koestner, R., Lekes, N., Powers, T. A., & Chicoine, E. (2002). Attaining personal goals: Self-concordance plus implementation intentions equals success. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(1), 231–244.

Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PloS one, 15(12).

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