How to Set (And Stick To) Realistic New Year’s Resolutions

As the year draws to a close, naturally we reflect on what we’ve achieved over the last 12 months and, perhaps, where we’ve fallen short of our own expectations. We set our sights on the future, thinking about where this new decade will take us. Setting New Year’s resolutions is easy. Sticking to them is the hard part. How can we make sure our New Year’s resolutions are realistic, attainable, and still relevant after summer is gone?

It’s a new year, not a new you

The issue here is that many of us think about New Year’s resolutions as a sort of shopping list for the person we want to become. We list lofty and exaggerated goals—”I will save $30,000″, “I won’t ever fight with my partner again,” “I will lose X-amount of weight”—but these generalisations can lead to disappointment and anxiety when we’re not able to fulfil them. This kind of thinking places unnecessary pressure on ourselves and these big, sweeping statements set us up for failure because no matter how hard we try, we won’t ever become someone else; we can’t. The best we can hope for is accepting who we are and creating options to help enhance our lives under a given set of circumstances. This is really what New Year’s resolutions should be: small promises to ourselves that facilitate positive change.

Baby steps

“New Year’s resolutions offer an opportunity to consider something you wish to change, and a chance to put it into practice. It’s better to make one resolution that you will be able to maintain rather than several vague ones,” psychologist Meredith Fuller tells Really Well. “For example, ‘I will move/walk for at least ten minutes per day’ is more realistic than ‘I will get fit, lose weight, and eat well’. It’s all about baby steps! Your resolutions should be centred around small, do-able actions rather than vague generalisations,” she says. Ensure that your goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. And don’t set so many that you feel overwhelmed. Around three to five resolutions are ideal.

Officiate your resolutions

Once you’ve come up with your New Year’s resolutions, physically write them down and display them on your fridge, above your desk, or next to your bed. Anywhere in which you’ll see them all the time. This constant reminder will keep you on track and motivated. If there are specific goals you might need support with, like cutting down on alcohol or drug use in social situations, share them with friends and family if you’re comfortable to do so. Opening up about something that you could fail at requires a huge amount of vulnerability, but the pay-off is having a network of guardians who have your back and understand, even just a little bit, what it’s like to be you in your world.

Hold yourself accountable

Fuller recommends setting monthly review sessions to check-in with how your resolutions are progressing. She says that each resolution should have two parts. Part A is your resolution, and Part B is the review. “Put it in your diary/phone, and allot the time to revisit your goals on the first of every month,” she suggests. These are now meetings with yourself to show up to, and should be held in the same esteem as a job interview or doctor’s appointment. In other words, don’t miss them.

Reset and re-evaluate

Circumstances change and often things are out of our control. We may get laid off from a job, which provides a significant roadblock to achieving a financial goal. Or we may experience an injury that gets in the way of undertaking yoga teacher training. It’s important to be flexible and open to adapting your New Year’s resolutions. Don’t abandon them, just revise them. It may also become apparent after a few months in that you need more than a year to achieve a goal, and that’s OK too

Be kind to yourself

Being a human is hard. None of us really know how to do it and getting good at it requires a life’s work. Habits are hard to break and change is difficult to embrace. Going into 2020 with the outlook that you won’t make any mistakes or encounter any mishaps along the way is optimistic but ultimately impractical. Give yourself credit for trying because that’s the main thing. You may even find that the less pressure you place on yourself, the more things begin to flow.

Need some ideas?

Fuller says that the below resolutions are a good place to start:

  1. I will eat four colours of vegetables/fruit every day.
  2. I will move/walk at least ten minutes every day.
  3. I will sleep at least seven hours every night.

Photography by Elissa McGowan and words by Really Well.