10 steps for making New Year’s resolutions that stick

I know. New Year’s resolutions seem so last century. It is trendier now to sidestep the whole failed resolution thing and chose a word or a focus or an idea to reflect on through the year rather than actually strive toward something different. Don’t get me wrong. I like the “choose a word” trend. It speaks to our need for spiritual growth and is an important part of renewing the mind. But if there is something you really want to achieve?

Now, I read that we are not supposed to make resolutions, but set goals. I have done that before, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the word is not the problem. Honestly, which is stronger? A resolution or a goal? If our nation were attacked, would you want our leaders to meet the challenge with resolve or with a goal-oriented attitude? The problem isn’t that resolutions are weak, it is that what we call resolutions are really more wishes and we do not have the resolve to follow through on them.

If you want your New Year’s resolution to stick, you have to plan for it.

Those you start planning for in November are more likely to be achieved. November and December are for planning and January 1 is the great unveiling. So is it too late? Of course not. The month you make your resolution does not matter. These are more successful because someone who starts planning in November truly has a resolution and they make an actionable plan to achieve their goals. Download this free New Year’s resolution planning worksheet and work through these steps to get started on the right foot!

New Years resolution worksheet

Make one resolution, not many.

No one has time for ten resolutions. Humans do not generally have the willpower to make that many changes at once. You may have resolutions for different areas of your life (I want to lose thirty pounds, promote more active learning in our homeschool and discipline my writing more), but if you really want to achieve something, choose one to focus on. I am going to choose losing 30 pounds as my example because it is the most tangible and weight loss is a common resolution for the new year.

Analyze your resolution. Is it something you can do?

I can’t just decide to lose 30 pounds like I can decide to vaccuum the floor. I can’t even space it out and decide to lose a little over half a pound a week to stay on track. I can choose actions which should lead to losing weight, but I cannot just take the weight and stick it on a shelf somewhere. Most resolutions are like that. They are vague and not that actionable. That’s OK. That’s why I drew up this resolution planning sheet. We are going to get from that vague resolution to an action plan we can actually implement.

Break your resolution down into (at least) three smaller parts.

If I want to lose weight, I need to do three things: eat healthier, exercise more and sleep better. These are still vague, but I am moving toward an action plan and have specific areas to concentrate on. We will call these smaller parts goals.

Determine what actions you need to succeed in each area.

Make a list under each goal of things you can do to achieve the goal.You want as many small actions as possible. “Stop putting sugar in my coffee” is better than “Stop adding sugar to everything.” You really do want to list every little thing you can do. Obviously, if you were able to just stop adding sugar to everything, you would achieve your goal faster, but it is a lot harder than choosing one little thing off of your list. And this plan is all about making baby steps in the right direction that set you up for success rather than overwhelming you with major life changes you are not likely to maintain. Even in the face of imminent life threatening illnesses, people fail at these kinds of major changes and we want to do everything we can to set ourselves up for success.

Develop a timeline.

How much you invest into developing a timeline will depend on your resolution. Last year, mine involved writing. I had a detailed action plan for each month as I developed an editorial calendar, planned time to write, planned time to research and began educationg myself about the market for the book I am working on. These kind of resolutions need monthly, weekly and daily goals. For something like weight loss, the timeline will take care of itself because it does not matter what you do when so long as you are always making steps toward your goal.

Choose something in your life to let slide.

Wait, what? I’m supposed to backslide on something else to move forward with this? No, of course not. But you probably will, so you may as well decide what it is going to be. Research shows that willpower is like a muscle. You only have so much, but you can develop it. When you tackle something new, you will likely lapse in another area until you have conquered the new area. That is why so many people gain weight when they quit smoking. This is about setting priorities, giving your resolution the status it deserves to be successful and knowing that it will be worth it. Once the actions you have selected become habits, you will be able to pick up the slack in those other areas.

When you are ready to begin, choose one action and start.

Like I alluded to above, we are not going to deny ourselves all sugar all at once, we are going to stop putting sugar in our coffee for a whole week. We aren’t going to start an intensive two hour a day work out plan. We are going to start the day with some light stretches and a few calisthenics. We are not going to completely adjust our sleeping schedule. We’re going to set a time (midnight) that isn’t too far off of when we normally go to sleep but makes it regular. Which thing you choose is up to you. Most people have a lot of energy and some additional willpower at the beginning of a plan and they lose steam over time. Resist the urge to do too much. Save some of the bigger and harder things for later. Pick something that you know you can achieve and do that for a week. After a week, add on a new one. It takes 21 to 66 days to form a habit (depending on what habit you are trying to instill) and this method will allow you to slowly change your habits, give you that little thrill of success at the end of each week but still challenge you to grow.

In your fourth week, you will have four behaviors you are working on but the one you started with should be developing into a habit. Especially if you were diligent in breaking your goals down into very small behaviors that you could implement fairly easily.

Give yourself grace.

Everyone fails sometimes. If it were easy, no one would set resolutions because we would be able to control our impulses and work toward our dreams every day of every year with no particular plan in place. This takes discipline and training and dedication. If life gets crazy, don’t add on new behaviors. Wait until life calms down a little. Look at the priorities in your life, focus on those and know that things can always be picked back up later. And pick them back up, one at a time. Allow yourself breaks. Allow yourself fresh starts. Sticking to this plan for three months and then stress eating for two weeks because the car broke down and you don’t have the money to fix it isn’t failure. You probably would have done that even if you weren’t working toward losing weight. And guess what? If you read the article I linked about habit formation, you might have noticed that messing up here and there has no effect on the success of developing new habits.

A step backward is only a step backward because you made so many steps forward.

Celebrate your successes.

Try not to undermine your goals in your celebrations (a donut might not be the best choice of rewards for giving up sugar in coffee for the week or your gains will be a wash). You are training yourself in new habits, and just like training children, you need some positive encouragement. Think of some things you like and set them as rewards for consistent progress (not for perfect achievement, but for consistent progress. That’s an important distinction!)

Come June, you could potentially have 26 changes you have made toward your resolution. That is a lot of change for a person! And you may not be exactly where you want to be or even halfway to where you want to be, but will you be closer than if you had not done anything? It is good to keep your overall resolution in sight because that is The Big Thing that you are hoping to achieve. But do not get discouraged if you are not getting there as quickly as you like. Focus on your little goals, celebrate each success and let that feeling of success strengthen you for your next step.

Progress is never failure.

Even if you do not achieve what you were hoping for, it isn’t failure. Not if you have made consistent progress toward it. Your original timeline may have been too aggressive. Life may have gotten in the way. 100% achievement of your resolution is not the only definition of success. Every step you make toward that goal is a success. What if it takes you two years to achieve? Or three? Or even ten? Will you be in a better place than if you had not even bothered? If your resolution is about bettering yourself and your relationships, it is a lifetime journey, not a single achievement. It is so much better to make a few changes that will stick than jump in with both feet and abandon it by January 30.

Progress is success. And think how much easier next year’s resolution will be if it is just to keep working the plan you already have in place?

Do you have any resolutions, goals or words for the coming year? I would love to hear about them, especially if you are challenging yourself to move outside of your comfort zone! And if your goals are homeschool related, we will be discussing our homeschool goals for the year in my group, Homeschooling When Your Heart Isn’t In It. We’d love to have you join us!

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8 Comments on "10 steps for making New Year’s resolutions that stick"

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The worksheet you created is very helpful because I feel like when we actually take the time to write out our goals, we’re more likely to put them in action! My favorite line is “progress is never failure”, this is something I struggle with so it’s very reassuring to hear it. Great share!

Alyssa from The Sparkly Life

I’m planning to come up with some resolutions his year, but since it is now January 2nd, I obviously didn’t start planning back in November! I love the idea of making them goals though. I am going to try that!


Amazing tips!! I love the idea of letting something slide because I really don’t have time to add more to my plate, replacing something on my plate just my work!!!


Great worksheet! I usually wait till my birthday, Jan 16th, to start my goals for the year. Gives me the first couple weeks to plan 🙂