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Let’s try that again: Making New Year’s resolutions that actually stick

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

January 17 is a holiday a lot of us celebrate without us realizing it: Ditch Your Resolution Day. Of those who make New Year’s resolutions, only about 9% stick with them. For the rest, January 17 is thought to be the day a large number of people abandon their brand-new goals.

The January 17 holdouts may celebrate a different unofficial holiday: Fall Off the Wagon Day on February 4. This is about when the increased number of visits to fast food restaurants intersects with a drop in visits to the gym.

Most people dive into their New Year’s resolutions with good intentions. Why, then, do so many of us fall short of our goals?

Why we fail at New Year’s resolutions

Lack of time and motivation are reasons people often give for abandoning their resolutions. But the problems often start with the goals themselves.

Unrealistic expectations. How many times have you set a goal based on something you want to achieve rather than something you can achieve? Ambitious goals can be good under the right circumstances, but if they’re too difficult you probably won’t have the time and willpower needed to succeed the way you want to.

Goals aren’t actionable. Maybe you’re one of the many who made a goal to exercise more and left it at that. While deciding to exercise more is a necessary first step, it needs to be followed up with a plan. How often will you exercise? When will you exercise? What type of exercise do you want to focus on? Having a plan you can track is important if you want to make it past February 4.

Doubt. Big or small, change is hard. And there’s nothing like a refreshed goal to remind you of past failures to achieve that goal. Sometimes we doom ourselves with our own negativity.

So instead of ditching our resolutions altogether, perhaps what we need to do first is to redefine them or change our approach:

Start small. Baby steps will get you where you want to go, not giant leaps.

Track your progress. Keep a weekly log of your progress. This keeps your goals top of mind and helps you see how you’re doing—which motivates you to keep improving.

Get yourself an accountability buddy. Share your goals with someone else and ask them to help you stay on track.

Now that you know how to set achievable goals, here’s another secret: you can make the actual work—aka, the goal achieving—easier on yourself, too.

2 simple ways to make resolutions easier

It’s human nature to choose the easy option over the hard one. Fortunately, we can use this to our advantage when it comes to self-improvement.

Temptation bundling

Temptation bundling involves linking activities you want to do with those you should do. Researchers explored the effectiveness of temptation bundling with audiobooks. Participants were split into three groups. Group 1 could listen whenever they wanted, group 2 could listen to certain parts when they were at the gym and the rest on their own time, and group 3 could only listen to the audiobook at the gym.

Group 3—whose audiobook access was restricted the most—ended up visiting the gym 51% more than group 1, who could listen whenever they wanted. This study demonstrates the power of combining an activity we crave with one we need to perform.

Temptation bundling works best when personalized to your interests and goals, but here are few ideas to get you started.

  • Listen to your favorite podcasts while you work out—and only while you work out.

  • Reward yourself for prepping a healthy meal by turning on a TV show you like to rewatch to accompany you as you work. No healthy meal, no TV show.

  • Get a pedicure any time you tackle a big chore you’ve been putting off, like organizing a closet or clearing out old storage.

Linking activities you enjoy with those you need to do more of can bring more joy in your life overall, both by giving you an excuse to do something you love and by making you feel good about improving some area of your life.

Habit stacking

Habit stacking is similar to temptation bundling, but instead of linking something you enjoy with something you want to do more of, you add a habit you want to develop to a habit you already have.

A few examples:

  • Do 10 pushups before you get dressed in the morning

  • Jog in place while you’re reheating leftovers

  • Drink a glass of water before eating dinner

Learn more about habit stacking here.

Restart your New Year’s resolutions with a non-resolution

So before you celebrate Ditch Your Resolution Day, give your resolutions one more chance by trying one of the techniques outlined above. If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to take charge of your health in some way, Unicity’s Feel Great program is an easy way to succeed at your goal.

That’s why we’re calling it the non-resolution resolution; it requires so little effort it doesn’t feel like a resolution. Learn more about the Feel Great program today, and make feeling great a part of your life this year.

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