How to (actually) keep your New Year’s resolutions—4 easy tips & tricks!

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2021: a long-anticipated year that feels like a particularly fresh start.

With the numerous challenges of 2020 receding into the rear view mirror, it’s the perfect time to make some New Year’s Resolutions. 

What’s more, it’s the perfect time to make and actually keep those resolutions.

Did you know that the percentage of folks who give up on their resolutions is surprisingly high, and 27% of people give up by January 7th

You can do better than that, and we can help. 

We are huge fans of goal-setting on this blog, regardless of the time of year. Though New Year’s resolutions can be as shiny as the NYE Ball in Times Square, they’re just like any other goal. January is just an especially opportune moment to set them! 

So while this post is geared towards those resolutions, we want to examine them within the lens of research-based best practices for building new habits.

Why do people make New Year’s resolutions?

Ready for a fun fact? This tradition has its roots in ancient Rome; in the ultimate power move, Julius Caesar established January 1st as the first day of each year. Over the course of thousands of years, various cultures and religions have marked New Year’s with their own traditions and celebrations. 

Fast forward through the centuries, and people all over the world have come to see the holiday as a clean slate; an opportunity to learn from another year’s experience and grow. 

And let’s be honest: a clean slate sounds pretty good right about now. 

The prospect of 2021 is like a beacon of hope at the end of a tunnel, so why not brighten that ray of sunshine with some resolutions?  

Think about what you’d like to see change in the next 12 months. Then, get to brainstorming, maybe as a family! As you’ll see in a moment, the more you share your goals with others, the higher your odds of achieving them. 

How to Stay Motivated for the New Year

We want to see you succeed in 2021 too! That’s why we’ve compiled some straightforward best practices that will strengthen your New Year’s resolutions and help you start (and continue!) strong. 

1. Craft New Year’s resolutions as SMART goals

There is eternal wisdom in the SMART goals model; for kids and adults alike, it’s a research-proven framework for achieving just about anything. So while we brand New Year’s resolutions a little differently, they work best when they follow the SMART guidelines. 

What are SMART goals, you may ask? The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. Some go as far to make SMARTER goals, adding Evaluated and Reviewed to the process, which can’t hurt. 

One notable study indicated the importance of doing more than a post-it note’s work in writing down your goals. This process requires critical thinking, planning, and reflection, all of which are proven ways to make sure you get where you want to be.

The SMART framework is an excellent means of refining your New Year’s resolution and making a plan for how you will see it through. It prompts questions like: is this goal realistic (achievable)? Why is this resolution important to me; how will it change my daily life for the better (relevant)? 

By spending time reflecting on each of these questions and more, your resolution will emerge stronger and with a built-in game plan. 

To help you and your family get started, this post on goal setting for kids is chock-full of ideas and ways goal-setting can be a family activity. 

2. Phrase goals positively; keep things simple

Consider this a quick word of caution before diving into SMART/SMARTER goals.

New Year’s resolutions require some sort of change no matter what, so make sure to give yourself a manageable workload. In fact, less can sometimes be more when it comes to making goals. At the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather fully achieve two things than half achieve eight? 

Speaking of simplicity, research shows that phrasing your New Year’s resolutions positively sets you up for a great start. A resolution to, for instance “eat a healthy diet” will work better than “stop eating junk food”. Psychology has a powerful part to play in goal-setting, so don't underestimate the deceptively subtle details of your goals.

Mindset is everything here. By starting with a positive one, you’re more likely to end with a favorable result.

3. Share your goal with others

The research speaks for itself: sharing your goals with trusted friends, colleagues, or family members increases the likelihood of success. Sharing is caring, of course, and there’s scientific evidence to encourage us to do so. 

One study indicated that, by sharing your goal with a person in a position of authority, chances of success soar. For kids, that might mean sharing their New Year’s resolutions with parents and family; for adults, sharing the appropriate goals with supervisors or mentors will do the trick. 

The bottom line is, the ball is in our own court whenever we set out to accomplish something, but that doesn’t mean we’re in it alone. In fact, it’s better not to be! 

4. Track your progress: anticipate mistakes and build in rewards

Sometimes we can be our own harshest critics, and that can be more of a hindrance than a help when kickstarting New Year’s resolutions. 

Nobody’s perfect, and though this is probably self-evident, there’s also research to show it. But while mistakes are inevitable, having the grit to keep going despite setbacks is not. Time and time again, that’s proven to be the key to actually keeping those resolutions.

So, anticipate that this will happen from the outset (in fact, build this into your SMART goal process), and you’ll be better prepared to regroup down the road. 

On the flip side, anticipate milestones and successes along the way. Wins should not be overlooked just because you’re meeting your own expectations; change is hard! Share those planned rewards with someone (you know, that person who’s increasing your odds of success just through chatting!), and you’ll be more motivated to earn them. 

Get started now

According to the New York Times, it’s not a bad idea to give your New Year’s resolutions a dry run if you're not ready to fully commit. So what are you waiting for?? We can hardly wait to see what 2021 has in store for us. 

A photo of Virginia

Virginia started with iD Tech at the University of Denver in 2015 and has loved every minute since then! A former teacher by trade, she has a master's in education and loves working to embolden the next generation through STEM. Outside the office, you can usually find her reading a good book, struggling on a yoga mat, or exploring the Rocky Mountains.