Written by Alice StevensAlice Stevens is a language enthusiast, loves history, and enjoys traveling. She manages content for BestCompany.com specializing in finance, insurance, and car warranty.
The new year often begins with motivation to make changes that will improve life. New Year’s resolutions can be about education, finance, health, or more personal goals.
According to a recent poll by Branded Research, 38 percent of U.S. consumers made a New Year’s resolution.
The age groups with the most people making resolutions are ages 18-24 (with 59 percent making resolutions), ages 25-34 (with 48 percent making resolutions), and ages 35-44 (with 45 percent making resolutions).
The most common primary resolutions were health-related, with 28 percent overall with a primary fitness-related goal and 25 percent overall with a primary diet-related goal.
Health goals were followed by finance-related goals, which 18 percent of U.S. consumers reported as being their primary goal.
Of those who made a resolution, only 28 percent report that it is very likely that they will keep them. About 38 percent say somewhat likely, and 34 percent say not likely.
If you’ve been struggling to keep your New Year’s resolutions, you’re in good company.
We’ve compiled some expert tips on keeping your motivation going throughout the year so that you can stay excited about your goals and keep them.
1. Remember why
If there are some resolutions that you’re having difficulty keeping, it’s a good idea to evaluate why you set that goal in the first place.
Declan Edwards, founder of BUCoaching.org, says, “Revisit why the resolution matters in the first place. Human behaviour is driven by feeling. We rarely do what we logically know is good for us, we do what we feel like doing and one of the best ways to tap into feeling is to revisit our why.”
There may be many reasons that you set a certain goal, and these reasons can be powerful motivators.
John Gilmer, PhD, Vice President of Research and Development at Active Iron, says, “If you have something that you are passionate or firm about changing, decide why, because this, not the resolution, will drive you when you hit the wall and want to quit.”
Whether or not you set a goal for the sake of having New Year’s resolutions, there may be additional reasons why you want to achieve that goal.
Dannie De Novo, author, attorney, coach, entrepreneur, and podcast host, agrees. She says, “My best advice is to remind yourself often of why you made your decision. Take a piece of paper, write out your resolution in big letters at the top, and under your resolution list all the reasons why you are going to accomplish it. Make these statements positive. Then put that paper somewhere you will see it every morning, like your bathroom mirror. Make yourself read it and really reflect on the reasons why you started on this journey and why it is so important to you to continue.”
2. Evaluate barriers
It’s now February, so you may have already encountered some obstacles along the way in your quest to keep your New Year’s resolutions.
Instead of getting frustrated with yourself, focus on what you’ve learned about those obstacles and make a plan to overcome them.
Gilmer says, “Eliminating obstacles is imperative, or you will constantly be tempted. Granted, this is easier done if you are cutting fat from your diet than if you are a smoker trying to quit, but no matter the gravity of the resolution, removing triggers is essential.”
Some obstacles are harder to get rid of than others. In some cases, it may work better to make flexible plans.
Eric and Ryan Johnson, founders of HOMAGE say, “When it comes to your training and nutrition, forecast ahead. By planning out your calendar at the beginning of the week, you won’t be caught off guard by any surprises. This will help you make the necessary adjustments to keep you on track.”
“For example, if you know you have a dinner scheduled for Thursday night, you can adjust your nutrition from Monday to Wednesday, so when Thursday comes around, you can enjoy yourself without any unnecessary guilt. The same goes for your training; if you have a particularly busy day scheduled, you can make it a rest day for training rather than stressing out how you’ll be able to fit it into your day,” they say.
Other times, it can be just as effective to make small changes to your surroundings.
Itamar Shatz, author of Solving Procrastination, says, “Making changes to your environment can help you pursue your goals. For example, if your goal is to drink more water instead of coffee, placing a glass of water next to your bed can help you make sure that that's the first thing that you drink in the morning when you wake up, which will make it easier to stick with your resolution.
Similarly, you can also take a water bottle to work with you, and refill it throughout the day, in order to help make sure that you stay dedicated to your goal even when there are many temptations around.”
3. Make a plan
Matt Edstrom, CMO of GoodLife Home Loans, says, “One of the best ways to make and stick with your New Year’s Resolutions is to create short term plans for your long term goals. Goals that you’ve planned to stick to for a full 52 weeks are going to seem incredibly daunting, especially if they have to do with something like food, something that we all interact with on a daily basis. Start new goals at the beginning of each month. Having new goals each month will help keep you motivated, hold you accountable, and keep you on track.”
Chris Beavers, senior personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, agrees and recommends even shorter timeframes.
He says, “Set bite-sized performance goals every week. Set a series of smaller and more achievable performance goals along the way to achieving your bigger goals. This is a great way to keep your training fun and challenging, and keeps you motivated as you achieve smaller wins on the way to your ultimate goal.”
For some goals, you may need to break the steps down even further.
Edwards says, “Success is driven by habits, not by giant leaps. If your resolution is to become healthier and fitter this year, your first step is not to go to the gym five times per week (especially if you weren't already doing that). Your first three steps would be to set the alarm in the morning, get out of bed when it goes off, and then get dressed in your gym gear. By the time you're out of bed and dressed, you're incredibly likely to follow through on the rest and show up to the gym. The decision to skip the workout is usually made while you're still in bed.”
As you make your plans, it’s important to set achievable goals.
Dan DeFigio, author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies, says, “Be realistic so you don’t succumb to all-or-nothing thinking. If you make unrealistic promises or set unattainable intentions, you’ll most likely fail quickly, and end up right where you used to be. Instead, make yourself a more doable promise, such as “I will put exercise time in my calendar three days per week,” or “I will limit myself to one dessert each weekend.”
4. Set reminders
There are many kinds of reminders — alarms, schedules, posters, lists, ect. You have to figure out what works best for you.
Edstrom says, “A visual reminder can be a document where your goals are written down or a dream board or an item that reminds you of what you’re working towards. A visual reminder will help you stay motivated and remind you of the reasons why you set the goal in the first place. Don’t pick a visual reminder that’s going to point out what you don’t have yet in your life.”
Hassan Alnassir, founder and owner of the kids’ toy business Premium Joy, agrees. He says, “If you want to stay motivated and retain the new year's resolutions, an effective trick is to always keep the end result in mind. Try to consistently imagine what difference it will make and how it will feel when you have finally achieved your health goal. Visualizing the outcome will help push you to keep going and take action toward accomplishing your desire.”
For more specific reminders, Milana Perepyolkina, international best-selling author, says, “The best way to keep a resolution is to add it to your calendar. Treat it the same way you would treat an important appointment. Create one resolution per month and add it to every weekend (delete it after completion). Share your resolutions with social media; this will improve your accountability.”
These reminders can be as frequent as you need them to be.
Eric J. Anderson, co-founder and Organizational Development Manager at ElMejorTrato.com, says, “Dedicate a special time to keep that resolution. Make it your time of day. For example, the first thing you do every day. If it is something very difficult to achieve, and you carry it out first, then the day is won. You have already beaten yourself.”
There are also apps that can help remind you of your goals and keep track of your progress.
Lydia Noyes, health and wellness reporter for HighYa.com, uses HabitHub. She says, “This ultra-simple app lets you track the days that you complete predetermined goals, and multiple days in a row start to create visually appealing streaks. After a few days with this app, I started to get excited about how long I could make my streaks go, so sleeping in and skipping yoga started to have a higher mental and emotional cost than getting up and doing it. As simple as it sounds, this app truly changed my brain's approach to morning yoga and made me commit.”
5. Track progress and create rewards
“Not seeing results from all your hard work in the gym often kills off that initial New Year motivation, and it's easy to just quit and fall back into bad habits. So, if you don't consistently track your progress, you won't be able to see the progress you're making,” says Beavers.
Finding a way to track your progress will help you see the results of your efforts every day.
It can be easy to focus the success of a goal based on results. However, that can lead to frustration and diminishing motivation.
DeFigio says, “Two important tips for keeping resolutions: 1. Resolve ACTIONS, not OUTCOMES. For example, a common New Year’s resolution is to “lose weight”, or even more specifically “to lose 20 pounds.” These are worthy goals, but they are too diffuse because you are looking to an OUTCOME, not resolving to DO something. You have resolve to do the ACTIONS required to get the outcome. It’s better to resolve “not to eat after 7:00 pm”, or to promise yourself that you’ll bring healthy snacks to work, so you’re not at the mercy of whatever’s in the break room. These are ACTIONS that you can reliably perform that will get you where you want to go.”
As you determine what to keep track of and how to measure progress, make it something that is in your control. You can keep track just for yourself or even share it with a friend.
Gilmer says, “If you are accountable to someone, you will not only be more responsible, but more engaged as well. Studies show that accountability may be the single most important thing in goal setting and resolution. In addition, having some accountability will also ensure support, which is an equally important part of making important changes.”
As you hit your smaller goals and make progress, plan ways to celebrate.
Christian Koshaba, personal trainer and owner of Three60Fit, says, “People are so caught up with the end goal, they forget about the mile markers along the journey. This will make your wellness endeavor more of a lifestyle, rather than an end goal. Celebrate and be proud of your accomplishments, no matter how small. Find rewards to treat yourself with. A weekend vacation, a new outfit, trendy haircut, etc.”
Celebrating even small successes also increases motivation.
Maggie Schott, CEO of McKeating Solutions, says, “Our brains are engineered to reward us for accomplishments. When we achieve a goal or celebrate an accomplishment, our brains release those "good feeling" chemicals. When we fail, not so much. So our minds become patterned to seek out accomplishments. When they're too few and far between, we can become discouraged. Creating micro goals or mini wins, will help to give us this release and fuel us to keep working towards our overall goals.”
6. Deal with failure
As you plan to celebrate your progress, it’s also a good idea to deal with failure in a constructive way. One way to do this is to practice self-compassion.
Edwards says, “When you fall off the bandwagon with your resolutions, it’s all too easy to end up blaming yourself and calling yourself a failure. This just demotivates you from trying again. Try speaking to yourself more like you would speak to a close friend if they had fallen off the bandwagon with their resolution. Maybe January didn't go to plan, but don't throw out the remaining 11 months of the year just because one month didn't play out how you thought it would.”
Another way to confront failure is to focus on the present and what you can do now.
De Novo says, “Not dwelling in the future is as equally important as letting go of the past. Do yourself a favor and stop thinking three to six months down the road. Set your attention on today. What can you do in the present moment to help further your goal? What can you achieve today in the furtherance of your resolution?”