9 tips to give yourself the best shot at sticking to new year’s resolutions

For many cultures, the dawn of the new year is marked not only with celebration, but also the opportunity for personal reflection and growth.

But as the year progresses, our initial drive for self-betterment can falter.

The good news is our tendency to give up can be circumvented. There are various ways we can strengthen our commitment to our new year’s goals.

A mismatch between aim and actions

In early 2020, my colleagues and I surveyed 182 participants to study personal goal factors which promoted well-being and sustained people’s pursuit of their most important new year’s resolution.

We found 74% of participants listed their most important resolution as the same, or nearly the same, as in the previous year.

More than half of the resolutions focused on either “diet” (29%) or “exercise” (24%). This suggests health-related goals tend to get rebooted each year — perhaps because New Year’s Day follows plenty of end-of-year festivities and feasting.

Furthermore, despite the participants reporting a strong commitment to their listed resolution, about two thirds gave up within one month. Other studies have shown similarly high rates for not sticking with new year’s resolutions.

Read more: Symbolic gestures, magical thinking: New Year’s resolutions

Generating meaning to sustain effort

If you’re wanting to set yourself a resolution for 2021, a good place to start is to reflect on the year that was.

Our personal reflection on 2020, and the key lessons we took away from it, will help determine our hopes and visions for the year ahead.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was marked by prolonged lockdowns, isolation, loss and shifts in opportunity. But personal growth and strength can stem from such experiences, as past research has revealed.

Living though difficult and stressful times can pave the way for a greater appreciation for life, deeper self-understanding, and increased personal resilience (which means being able to bounce back quicker).

When setting resolutions, it’s important they’re linked to meaningful goals and values that can sustain motivation.

For example, the resolution to “lose five kilos” will more likely endure in the face of obstacles, difficulties or other competing resolutions if it’s linked to higher personal values, such as beliefs about one’s health or appearance.

Sticky note with various popular new year's resolutions If you’re wondering whether your motivation to reach a certain goal will dwindle later on, look at why you want to achieve the goal in the first place. What does it really mean to you? Shutterstock

Our study also found “goal flexibility”, which refers to being able to adapt to various situations, was positively associated with mental well-being. In turn, this was associated with a greater chance of sticking to new year’s resolutions.

So being adaptable in the process of meeting your goals will not only improve your general well-being, it will also help you pursue your new year’s resolutions.

Tips for setting your 2021 new year’s resolutions

When it comes to sticking to resolutions, insight gleaned from psychology research can be distilled into several practical and easy-to-apply tips.