Keep the Momentum Going Across the Year

So, how are your new year’s resolutions going? Like many people, you may already be feeling that these are a distant memory. In a YouGov survey[1], 22% of people said they failed to keep all of their resolutions just 6 days into the new year. In addition, success rates across the year were relatively low – only 27% of people said they kept all of their resolutions by the end of the year. Why are success rates so low? And, what can you do about it? It’s not too late to refocus and get back on track.

One of the problems with new year’s resolutions is that they tend to look very generic and don’t capture why the outcomes are important to an individual. The 10 most common resolutions in the UK are[2]:

  1. Losing weight
  2. Doing more exercise
  3. Saving more money
  4. Improving diet
  5. Pursuing a career ambition
  6. Spending more time with family
  7. Taking up a new hobby
  8. Decorating or renovating part of home
  9. Cutting down on drinking
  10. Spending less time on social media

How many of these were on your list? Why did you pick them? How do you think your life would be better if you achieved them? And, are there actually other goals that would be more meaningful to you?

Boost your chances of achieving your new year’s resolutions

As a start, it’s worthwhile understanding why we set new year’s resolutions. People may have been doing so in some form or another for the last 4000 years, since the Babylonians[3]. New year is often seen as a time of renewal and growth. Research shows that people have a tendency to set aspirational goals close to significant milestones or meaningful life events[4]. Ultimately, we set goals and resolutions to change and improve our lives and they need to be meaningful to us as individuals.

Adopting a growth mindset and some specific goal-setting practices could help you increase your chances of achieving your new year’s resolutions.

#1 Why? Ask yourself why the goal is important to you.

Identify what’s important and why: Goals often focus on ‘the what’ rather than ‘the why’. Ask yourself why the goal is important to you. How does it link to your values? How do you think your life will be better after achieving the goal? What do you think you will miss out on if you don’t achieve it? Write down at least 6 reasons why the goal is important to you specifically. If you can’t do this, you’re unlikely to be motivated to invest effort and energy in achieving the goal across the year. This may also help you identify the goals that are most important to you.

#2 What? Be specific about what you would like to achieve.

Set SMARTER goals: SMART goals are a well-known model of goal-setting. When designing your goals, make sure they are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

You can make them SMARTER by adding:

  • Evaluated
  • Rewarded or Revisited

#3 Who? Think about who you can involve and collaborate with.

Share your goal: Sharing your goals with others could help you be more successful in achieving those goals. One study[5] showed that:

  • People who wrote down their goals were more likely to achieve them than those who didn’t.
  • People who shared their goals with a trusted friend and provided regular updates made the most progress on their goals.

Taking this a step further, find friends, partners or colleagues who share similar goals, who will challenge you and explore ways that you could work on them together to keep motivated and committed.

#4 How? When? Where? Break down your goal into more manageable parts.

  • Create a plan: Create a plan for how you will achieve your goal. It helps to break broad goals into smaller components. For example, if your goal is to exercise more, think about: What type of exercise? How often? What days? What time of day? Where? A specific action in this scenario may be, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings I’ll go for a 1-hour run in the park.
  • Use prospective hindsight to identify potential obstacles: Approaching goals with a realistic attitude may help you anticipate potential obstacles and be better prepared to overcome them. Using the technique of prospective hindsight – imagining yourself in the future and that things have not worked – helps people to more accurately identify reasons they might go wrong and prepare for them. For example: if it rains, then I’ll go to the gym instead of for a run.
  • Focus on getting better rather than getting things perfect: This attitude is key to a growth mindset. If you focus on getting better, mistakes and setbacks are seen as opportunities to learn and improve rather than as failures. Be careful not to get a premature sense of failure if things don’t go to plan. Likewise, take care not to develop a premature sense of achievement, e.g. don’t pat yourself on the back just for buying a gym membership. Focus on what you still need to do to keep the momentum going.

People have been making new year’s resolutions for centuries and possibly even millennia in different forms. Understanding why we do this, switching our mindsets to focus on growth and improvement, and being much more specific about how we will achieve our goals can help us be more successful in the year ahead.


[1] – YouGov (2017). Six in ten have failed to keep all their 2017 New Year’s resolutions.

[2] – YouGov (2017). Survey Results – New Year’s Resolutions.

[3] – The Economist (2018). The origin of new year’s resolutions.

[4] – Dai, H., Milkman, K. L., & Riis, J. (2015). Put Your Imperfections Behind You: Temporal Landmarks Spur Goal Initiation When They Signal New Beginnings. Psychological Science, 26(12), 1927-1936.

[5] – Matthews, G. (2015). Goal Research Summary. Paper presented at the 9th Annual International Conference of the Psychology Research Unit of Athens Institute for Education and Research (ATINER), Athens, Greece.