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How to Set Realistic Resolutions (And Keep Them)

Jordan Kadish

December 28, 2022


Have you ever started the new year excited and motivated about your resolutions, only to find that you have already broken them a few weeks later? You are not alone. According to a 2020 research poll conducted by Ipsos and Urban Plates, despite 38% of people planning on making New Year’s resolutions for self-betterment, over half of them were unable to keep up with them [1]. Additionally, one in ten people broke their resolution within the first month of making them. If you can relate to this, feel no shame. But, know that there are things you can do to make more realistic resolutions—and stick to them!


Why do people set New Year’s resolutions?

There are many reasons why people choose to make resolutions, or goals for themselves, at the start of a new year. For one, creating New Year’s resolutions has been a tradition for thousands of years. Historians reason that setting resolutions has been around since the 17th century [2], in which goals were related to morals [3]. Nowadays, the context of resolutions has changed a bit. Yet, the idea of setting goals relating to self-betterment and achievement has remained.

Setting resolutions at the start of a new year makes sense from a psychological perspective. In reality, the beginning of a new year doesn’t mean much—time continues passing at the same rate, and the change from December to January is no different from the normal change of months. For many, though, the start of a new year represents new beginnings. It is a time often described as a “blank slate,” where you can start fresh without the habits of “past you” holding you back. This can be incredibly inspiring for those who wish to make a change in their mental health or addiction recovery journey. When a brand new year is about to begin, it is natural to reflect on your current situation. Are you happy with where you are in life? What should you change? These questions run through peoples’ minds and inspire change for the future year.


3 Reasons New Year’s Resolutions Fail:

If people are so driven to make new goals at the start of a new year, why do so many people break their resolutions? Circumstances are different for every individual, but many surveys identify standout reasons why people end up not reaching their goals for the new year:

  • They find their goals unrealistic. People often make their resolutions with high expectations and high confidence, only to find that their goals are unrealistic for their current situation. For example, a common resolution is exercising more. One may set the resolution of exercising every day but find their goal unrealistic with their busy work schedule, lack of access to a gym, or health conditions. Instead of altering resolutions, many people give up once they find they are unrealistic [4].
  • They lose motivation. The Ipsos survey previously mentioned found that a lack of motivation accounted for the top reason resolutions don’t stick, affecting 35% of individuals [5]. One of the main reasons people lose motivation is that they do not reflect on why they want to reach their goals. Many people jump on the bandwagon of choosing a resolution they don’t actually care about. This is why it is easy to disregard the resolution once motivation starts to wane.
  • There is a lack of support and/or accountability. Social support means a lot when trying to meet a goal, especially if you don’t feel confident about the goal. Many fail at keeping resolutions because nobody is helping motivate them or holding them accountable. People are much more likely to keep working towards their goals if others push them towards them, too. This is especially true for those working towards a goal like recovery or sobriety.


A woman sits on the ground with a paper and pen writing a new year's resolution

5 Ways to Keep Your Resolutions:

1. Start thinking about your goals early and reflect on why you wish to meet them.

Don’t start thinking about your resolutions on New Year’s Day because that is what everyone else is doing. Reflect on your past year as early as possible and consider what you want to change about your lifestyle. Do you wish to eat healthier? Do you want to think more positively? Would you like to spend more time with your family? Recognize these desires, and think about why you want these things. Once you solidify a reason, keep that reason in mind as a driving force when you start attaining your goals. This will help motivate you and make the resolution more valuable in the long run.

2. Talk about your resolutions with others and write them down.

Studies have shown that speaking about your goals and writing them on paper makes you significantly more likely to work on achieving them [5]. Likewise, making your loved ones aware of your resolutions will increase the chances of them checking in on you about them. This will help motivate you to complete your goals so that you can share the good news with your friends and family.

3. Be realistic and make sure your resolutions fit your lifestyle.

Nothing is worse than being inspired to reach a new goal, only to find that it is impossible to fit into your lifestyle. To reduce this, try to plan out exactly how you will practice your resolution when you think of it. For example, suppose your resolution is to eat healthier. In that case, you should plan out how many times a week you will go to the grocery store, how you will budget healthier (and often, more expensive) foods, when you will make time to cook, and how you will plan around dietary restrictions. This way, you will have a clear idea of exactly what you should do to reach this goal in the new year with no confusion. If you find yourself running into issues when planning, alter your resolution or change it.

4. Track your progress and reward yourself.

It can be easy to disregard small milestones and instead only focus on the “end goal” of your resolution. For example, if your resolution is to become sober, you may be so focused on the idea of 100% sobriety that you don’t even realize you are drinking less and less each month—which is a fantastic milestone! Writing down your progress, sharing it with others, or rewarding yourself with self-care once you reach a milestone are all great ways to be mindful of how far you have come in your resolutions.

5. View your mistakes and setbacks as motivation.

It’s normal to experience setbacks or mistakes when trying to reach your goals. Don’t let it stop you from continuing on your journey! Instead, view mistakes as motivation to keep pushing forward. Keep your end goal and how much it means to you in mind throughout the process. You got this!

Eleanor Health is here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders as well as mental health treatment. We are currently located in LouisianaMassachusettsNorth CarolinaNew JerseyOhioTexas, and Washington.


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