It’s that time of year when lots of people are thinking about what they would like to change in their life or what they would like to achieve in the next year and Many of us are settling down and making New Year’s Resolutions.

But how many are likely to succeed?

Research suggests that at least 80% of people fail to stick to their New Years Resolutions.
(several studies have demonstrated this including The Resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts John Norcross 1988)

In other words 8 times out of 10 New Years Resolutions don’t work.

In fact, we now have 2 days named in honour of our failure to stick to our Resolutions: Ditch Your Resolution Day on January the 17th and Fall Off the Wagon Day on February the 4th.

So, why do so many fail, and is there anything we can do to improve our chances of succeeding?


A common mistake is trying to change multiple things at once.

For example, “Next year I’m going to loose weight, run my first 10km race and stop biting my nails.”

Each one if these is difficult but add them together and the chance of success is minimal. To achieve each of these goals involves a complex matrix of breaking multiple old habits and replacing them with new ones. Not an easy task.

Instead, if you really want to make a New Year’s Resolution, pick one small thing and do it well.

Looking to improve your diet? Add in 2 fruit or veg based snacks a day.

Always meaning to floss? Add flossing in to your daily routine one tooth at a time.

Want to adopt a more positive outlook? Start by beginning each day with a positive affirmation to set you off on the right foot and build from there.

This approach has definitely worked for me.

I wanted to improve my diet so I started by planning my evening meals to make sure I had a good balance of different foods and nutrients throughout the week. I did this for months before I moved onto making lunches and then I added in taking snacks to work. Now, food prep is just part of my daily routine and seems to take little effort or planning.

Make one change that will carry many benefits

6 years ago I was really struggling with back pain and I realised that I had to become more active if I wanted to maintain my mobility and independence in the longer term.

Over the years I have started, and failed to finish persist with multiple 30/60 day exercise programmes as well as various running programmes.

Instead of doing the same again I decided to focus on simply moving more. Walking, playing with the kids, stretching and trying new things like weight training and boxing at home and in the gym. I focussed on being active for 20 minutes 3 times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) and didn’t change this goal for many months.

I knew that by making this one small change I would reap multiple benefits including physical fitness, improved mental wellbeing and the joy of knowing I was spending time being active with my kids and being a good role model for them in terms of looking after their health.

One small, achievable change, many benefits.

It was on the back of this new habit and feeling like I was taking better care of my health that I then began to take more care in terms of what I was eating and drinking.

I experienced the ripple or domino effect that we talked about in the blog about willpower 2 weeks ago.


Common choices for New Years Resolutions include stopping smoking, stopping biting nails and losing ‘x’ amount of weight.

Rarely do people say that they want to ‘cut down their smoking’ or ‘bite their nails less’ or ‘have a better relationship with food’ or ‘eat more fruit and veg’.

No, they go for it big style, looking to stop doing things that have habitually done multiple times a day for years, often decades.

And how often do they think about what they are going to do instead?

What new habit are they going to replace the old one with?

Sadly, not often enough. Instead, if they had focussed on a smaller goal of having 2 less cigarettes a day, or 5 portions of fruit and veg a day they would find themselves well on the way to long term, sustainable change.


It’s all very well and good to summon up the willpower to make a change in your life but unless you change the environment in which you are living the chances of you being able to sustain that chance is pretty small.

•Want to make meditation or stretching part of your morning routine? Keep the phone out of your room to avoid distraction when you get up, keep your yoga mat next to your bed and set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier than you need to get ready.

•Keen to be more active? Keep a pair of trainers in your bag, at work or in your car so you can go for a walk or to the gym any time.

•Aiming to eat more fibre and less sugar? Keep bowls of fruit and chopped up veg on the counter top and store all the biscuits, sweets and cakes in hard to reach cupboards or opt not to buy them at all.

 Set yourself up for success, not failure.


 Or, to put it another way, focussing on the destination rather than working out how you are going to get there.

For example, your goal might be to ‘Lose 15kg’. I’m not suggesting that this is a bad goal (destination) but unless your focus is on what habits you are going to have to change to reach this goal (how you are going to get there), then the likelihood is you will lose your way after the initial willpower and motivation has waned.

Instead, focus your energy on creating new habits that will get you closer to your goal and make you feel healthier and happier in the meantime.

So, the end result may indeed by that you lose that 15kg but the goals you set might be to be active for 20 minutes 3 times per week, eat more fruit and veg and set aside 10 minutes 3 times a week to do something that helps you relax (read, draw, listen to music, practice yoga or meditation).

All small goals, all sustainable and all will get you closer to that 15kg weight loss.


Often we pick goals that are not focussed on our core values as a human being.

In other words, you identify your what (what goal you want to achieve), but not your why (why you want do achieve it).

For example, this year I want to earn enough money to buy ‘x’ car or I want to lose weight because my BMI is too high.

Nothing wrong with these goals but they are based on external factors rather than core values that drive us.

Staying motivated is difficult and choosing goals that are based around our core values can help keep us motivated.

For example, I want to be more active so I can run around the park with my kids is a goal based around your core values of enjoying good physical and mental health and of being a good role model for your family.

These types of goals are much more likely to be driven by intrinsic motivation that comes from the values that your already have.


If you want to succeed try and get as much support as you can.

This may be as simple as telling people what your goal is so they can help support you to find time (hold your pager at work for ten minutes to let you out for a walk) or create a supportive environment (not leaving biscuits lying round the office), or perhaps you could find a friend or co-worker with the same New Year’s resolution and make a plan to support one anther?

You could look to social media as a means of finding accountability. You can join a group with similar goals or post your progress on your page to help keep your motivation up.


Regardless of what you decide to change, if you aren’t getting enough sleep and managing your stress you are unlikely to succeed.

Perhaps improving your sleep is your goal? I know lots of people who have made getting to bed by 10 o’clock their New Year’s Resolution.

Other’s have cited ‘managing my stress better’ at their aim for the New Year.

Even if your goal seems completely unrelated, I can assure you that focussing on sleep and keeping your stress levels under control will improve your chances sustaining new habits.


It’s not a case of ‘Go big or go home’ when it comes to goal setting and New Year’s Resolutions should be no different.

If you rarely open a book then it’s not realistic to aim to read ’20 books next year’.

If you do no exercise at all just now then it’s unlikely you will sustain a goal of going to the gym for 90 minutes 5 times a week for the rest of your life.

That 1200 calorie a day diet? Unlikely to be sustainable especially if your current intake is 2500 calories.

But, in the example above, if your aim is to lose 15 kg: The goals you set might be to be active for 20 minutes 3 times per week, eat more fruit and veg and set aside 10 minutes 3 times a week to do something that helps you relax (read, draw, listen to music, practice yoga or meditation).

All small goals, all sustainable and all will get you closer to that 15kg weight loss.

I haven’t made any New Years Resolutions for 2020. Winter is not the time of year when I feel I have the time or motivation to make new changes.

It’s usually a really busy time of year at work and I often work extra days because of this.
It’s cold and dark when I leave the house in the morning and when I get back.

Instead, I focus on maintaining all the new habits I’ve established throughout the previous year and look to build on these as the we move into Spring.

Don’t feel pressured into making big changes just because it’s a New Year but, if the dawn of a new January gets you motivated consider using some of the tips above to improve your chances of success!

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