5 Steps To Take To Make (& Keep!) New Year's Resolutions

Here's the real way to get your New Year's resolutions to stick.

couple celebrating new year's eve Getty

It’s that time of year when every media source inundates you with promises of foolproof ways to become a "new you" in the new year by making New Year's resolutions now.

Of course, these tantalizing offers are complete with urgency-ramping “deals” suggesting you should act now before the price goes up or all your friends get more organized, productive, happy, svelte, fit before you.

But could all these promises of “New year, new you” actually make you feel worse and sabotage your goals?


It seems like knowing how to make New Year's resolutions should be pretty simple and intuitive. But given that the vast majority of us drop our resolutions by February each year, we should all be able to agree that's simply not the case.

While resolutions are intended to offer hope, setting goals that are doomed from the start can leave you stressed or depressed instead.

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I completely understand the allure of what seems like an easy-to-follow program you believe will make a new sense of self-control or self-actualization oh-so attainable! You can almost taste that new version of yourself — clear-headed, clean-eating, grounded, focused, fit, creative ...

But how can you leverage the freshness and hope a new year brings in a way that allows you to successfully make some positive intentional changes that actually stick for more than a month?

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when setting your New Year's resolutions if you want to avoid falling into the typically unsuccessful "new year, new you" trap.

How To Make (And Keep!) Your New Year's Resolutions

1. Focus on a specific aspect of yourself or your life that you'd like to change.

The current you is good as you are right now. Yes, even if you have put on a few pounds, lost control of your organizational system, run adrift in the relationship department, missed a promotion, felt disenfranchised by this past year’s events, struggled with depression, or gotten off-track from your dreams.


Unless you do a little work to look at what you already love about the current you, you will be relying on your inner critic to motivate you with should’s and shame — a surefire recipe for failure.

You don’t have to be thrilled about your current situation, but you do have to have faith in yourself and your ability to use your strengths to create new behaviors.

If you do not feel like you are starting from a positive, empowered place, revisit your successes and your strengths. Make a list of what you're proud to have accomplished in the past year. Ramping up your self-compassion is powerful.

You don’t need a new you; you need the current you to feel strong, self-directed and capable.


2. Avoid making resolutions from a place of magical thinking.

We all want change to be easy. If I am honest, I don’t really want to stop eating cookies, I just want to feel energetic, lithe, and fit, and I want it to happen as if by magic!

But I know that reality doesn't work that way — and so do you. You will have to change the way you do something if you want to get a different result. And you can do that — with clarity, motivation, and support.

A new outcome requires new behaviors, choices, and habits, all of which require asking your brain to give up its easy, go-to pathways and build ones. New wiring is required to create new habits.

This is effort-intensive, so it really helps to be efficient, clear, realistic and motivated if you want to set yourself up to make meaningful changes in your life.


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3. Get clear about what you really want to accomplish.

This step sounds simple, but can be quite tricky or easily skipped when the shiny, new year/new you beckons.

You may start focused on wanting to lose weight because it seems like the natural thing to focus on, when what you really crave most is to feel more connected to the people in your life. Shifting your focus to your deepest priorities in life can be truly empowering.

Picture yourself having accomplished your life goals. What does your life look like and how do you feel?

4. Get clear about why you want to accomplish this.

Again, go beyond the media promises, pat answers, inner critic thinking, and should's. None of these will keep you motivated in the long run.


Now that you know what you want looks like and how it feels, ask yourself why it makes you feel this way? Then ask yourself why again — and again.

Keep asking until you dial down to your authentic motivation. Then use this clarity to set powerful intentions.

Connecting to your real “why” will give you the intrinsic motivation you need to finish strong when muscling through gets old. Revisit your values — what really drives you to be your best, strongest self? What has successfully motivated you in the past? What gives you the most deep-down satisfaction? What helps you ignore distraction and temptation to stay focused on your intentions?

Create reminders of your why everywhere.


5. Be prepared to nurture yourself along the way.

Lasting behavioral changes require a strong, energized mind and body. Do not make the mistake of focusing hard on one aspect of your life at the expense of good general self-care. And never focus on deprivation — your mind and body will sabotage that approach!

You have to take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual (connection/big picture) energy or something winds up out of whack — it’s the science of being human.

If you are working on a productivity goal, you’d better have the right building blocks in your brain. If you are changing your relationship with food, nurture it with the people and concerns that matter to you.

This does not mean you need to overhaul everything at once! Small steps are the answer, but do check in with yourself more often. Be honest with yourself, and ask for what you need.


Make a plan to handle any potential stress that may get in your way. Think about the whole system you rely on to be healthy, happy, smart, and effective.


The new year brings a feeling of new opportunity to clean out, clear up, or start fresh. You can leverage that feeling and create a new you, but if you are not really ready, grounded, and clear, it is too easy to waste your precious time, money, and energy.

Take time to get clear about what you want for yourself in the year ahead and how you work/live/love best — there is no better investment in your future. Then carefully vet your choices to find the program, coach or system that will best support your success.

Reflection gives you access to your hard-earned wisdom. Proceed wisely, grounded in your values, using your unique strengths, connected to what matters to you. Set intentions and revisit them every day. Stay curious.


Get creative. Practice calm. Laugh often. Exercise compassion. Connect more. Celebrate all wins.

And never, ever hesitate to reach out for support, encouragement, or direction. No one said figuring out how to live well is easy. Luckily humans are wired to be more successful together.

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Cynthia Ackrill leads stress and leadership workshops in many settings from coaching and leadership programs to women's conferences. Want to learn more strategies to tackle your stress and put more "you" in your future? Contact her or visit her courses and resources on her website.