How to Make New Year’s Resolutions that stick

Happy New Year!  I personally love the optimism of a new year, getting a new calendar, and starting a new school semester. It’s a blank slate and perfect motivation to leave the old behind.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, The Top  New Year’s Resolutions follow into the following broad categories:

  1. Lose Weight/Healthier Eating
  2. Life / Self Improvements
  3. Better Financial Decisions
  4. Quit Smoking
  5. Do more exciting things

The middle of January is just around the corner. How many resolutions have you kept?

When I look at my calendar I can see that I haven’t met my goal to walk 20 minutes every evening with my dogs but I have taken walks on more days than I ‘ve missed! I consider that an accomplishment and that makes me feel encouraged.

In the spirit of encouraging you, here are a few things I’ve learned about New Year’s Resolutions and goal setting.

How our brains work:

  • New habits require new electronic pathways in the brain.

In an article in MIT News titled “Brain Researchers Explain Why Old Habits Die Hard”, our brains simplify routines until they become automatic. (For example, when you are driving somewhere and realize you’re on “autopilot”.) When we want to break habits, or create new ones, our brains kick into gear and have to work overtime!

How long does it take to form a new habit? Two – three weeks? Sixty-six days? New goals and habits take consistency, tenacity, and determination to gain traction.

What you can do to make your resolution happen

Set goals

My coworker had this posted above his desk:

“Goals are S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related.” (This is adapted from a paper written by George T. Doran[i].)

Instead of simply resolving the “Spend More Time with God”, a rounded out goal becomes:

“This year I want to invest time with the Lord through daily Bible reading, through fellowship at Bible study, and listening to Christian music while I’m driving.”

Reverse engineer your goal into small manageable steps

Break your resolution / goal to spend more time with God down into steps like:

Goal 1 – Download a Bible app for my Smartphone or Tablet

Goal 2 – Sign-up to attend a church Bible study on Wednesday night with a friend

Goal 3 – Preset my radio stations to Christian stations

Suppose your goal is to exercise more. Here are some ways to break down this resolution / goal:

Goal 1 – Plan a realistic step goal (the recommended daily goal is 10,000 steps). Once you reach that goal consistently, add 1,000 more steps.

Goal 2 – Walk for 15 minutes at lunch with your coworker. She can keep you accountable and you’ll both appreciate the break.

Goal 3 – Keep comfortable walking shoes close at hand like in your car or beside the door. You’ll be prepared to take advantage of sunny afternoons!

Understand why you want to accomplish this goal

An important part of resolutions, establishing new habits, and setting goals is to understand what motivates us.

  • I want to spend more time with the Lord because He is my source of strength.
  • I want to set a positive example for my friends and family.
  • I want to develop my Bible knowledge so I can contribute to Bible study.

Make the most of social media

Making the most of our social media so that it is an asset to your lives and not a liability can be just 3 easy steps.

  1. Take a critical look at your social media feed.
  2. Un-follow friends who consistently post negative content.
  3. Start following people and pages who share positive and encouraging content.

Some things that can make real change difficult

I understand that there are obstacles to accomplishing goals. Our brains want to return to old habits, and the world fights to maintain the status quo. On my journey with New Year’s Resolutions, establishing new habits, and setting new goals, I’ve hit my share of bumps in the road.

Can you change your environment?

Sometimes we have little control of our home, school, or work environment.  It is especially difficult to establish new habits when people or circumstances are actively working against you. Please remember that the Lord is with you, no matter what!  In the end, you need to make choices for your well-being, health, and growth. Pray for wisdom about what is within your realm of control.

I’ve learned that things within my realm of control include: my attitude towards people and circumstances, what I accept as truth from what other people say, and the people I choose to spend time with when I socialize.

The danger of black-and-white thinking

I’ve failed in resolutions because of extreme black-and-white thinking. I’d set a goal of reading 5 chapters in my Bible every day. The first time I didn’t meet that goal I’d call myself a failure and give up completely.

I learned a lot from watching my young nieces as they figured out how to walk. They wobbled on their chubby legs as they learned to balance, they fell on their rear ends, and sometimes they cried. But they kept at it!

Keep moving in the right direction – even if it’s only baby steps for now.

The danger of immediate gratification.

Every month my women’s magazine subscription arrives, and with it are glowing promises. Three steps to a clean home! Lose ten pounds this weekend! Relationship success guaranteed! Each of these titles has the promise of immediate results with a minimum of effort.

Always take promises of immediate results with a grain of salt. The offer of losing ten pounds in one weekend can come at a high price – dehydration, dizziness, and potential damage to your digestive tract. Inevitably, that weight will come back because no steps were taken to ensure long term change!

In conclusion

The laws of physics say that every action has an equal and opposite reaction – and this can also take place in our lives. When we start making changes, there will be resistance. Don’t fear that resistance, though. Lean into it, face it head on.



[i] Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. Management Review. AMA FORUM. 70 (11): 35–36.

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