New Year’s resolutions: are they worth it?

If you want to turn over a new leaf for the New Year – read on to find out how to set a resolution you can actually stick to

March, 2021


If you’re thinking about making some New Year’s resolutions this January, you won’t be alone. Apparently about half of all adults make New Year’s resolutions. However, as you’ve probably discovered yourself, not many manage to keep them for very long (fewer than 10% keep them for more than a few months!). So where is everyone going wrong? And is it worth even trying to set resolutions?

Where do we go wrong?

There are 3 main culprits. Most people are unrealistic about what they want to achieve, and how quickly. They set goals that are too vague. And finally, they are not accountable to anyone – as a New Year’s resolution is a personal goal, there’s no one to pull you up when you decide to skip it that day or give up altogether.

1) Setting realistic goals

New Year’s resolutions generally involve changing something you’ve been doing for years, breaking a bad lifestyle habit, or doing something differently. But just as it’s taken you years to build a bad habit, it will take time to build a new, healthier one. Most people are not prepared for drastic lifestyle changes, but write them down as resolutions anyway, setting themselves up for failure.

If you want to set a New Year’s resolution, think deeply about what it is that you want to change about your life, and why. If you want to lose weight, think more about it – why do you want to lose weight? Is it because you’d like to fit into different clothes, because that will make you feel more confident about yourself? Or is it so that you will have more energy for playing with your children or enjoying life with your partner? Or is it because you know that being overweight with your type 2 diabetes puts you at risk of complications, and you want to be around for your family for decades to come?
Once you have drilled down to the ‘why’ of your goal, write it down, and it will keep you going on the days when you just don’t feel like trying to keep to your new ‘healthy’ habit. Focusing on the ‘why’ will get you off your sofa.

Don’t set too many resolutions. Choose one that you care about to focus on, and then when you’ve achieved that, you can add another. Your chances of success are greater when you channel energy into changing just one aspect of your behaviour.


The most common resolutions are: losing weight, doing more exercise, quitting smoking and saving money. Recognise any of those from your previous lists? So they’re good things to aim for right? Wrong.

In order to be able to keep, and stick to, a New Year’s resolution (or any kind of personal goal), your goal needs to be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. Sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but what does a SMART New Year’s resolution look like?

Let’s say you want to lose weight (for the ‘why’ reasons you’ve already thought about above). Instead of vaguely saying you want to ‘lose weight’, you use the SMART guide to define what that goal looks like:

Make it…Remember…Example…
SpecificI am going to add a cupful of greens to one meal a day and go for a 15 minute walk three times a week
MeasurableTake a long term view (e.g. you want to lose 1 stone over 6 months) and then break it down, to how much you want to lose each month and each weekI want to lose 8lbs before my summer holiday, so I need to lose half a pound a week for 16 weeks
AchievableBe realistic with your goal and your current situation – if you’re overweight, eat unhealthily and don’t do any exercise, then it’s going to be harder to change your behaviour. So be kind to yourself and set practical goals that you know you can achieve with some workI would like to go down three waist sizes, but for now I will focus on dropping down to the next size
RealisticBe honest with yourself, and what is realistic for you. If you’re a waist size 40 and you’ve never been a size 30, don’t aim for that. Rather look to set achievable smaller goals which you can build on slowly and healthily, e.g. dropping one shirt size within 6 months. Also remember to link the ‘specific’ part with the realistic goal- if you are only making small adjustments to your diet/exercise regime, then you will also only see small changes in your weightI will not give up if I miss a walk every now and again, I will just keep trying to fit in three walks each week
Time-basedSet your goals to a time frame – how often are you going to do something, and exactly when are you going to measure your progressI will measure myself once a month, and track my progress for six months


Write this all down, and keep it handy where you can see it, and also keep note of how you’re progressing. Keep a diary / calendar on your fridge, whatever works for you. Include pictures that might motivate you, to keep yourself on track on the hard days.

3) You have to do it yourself but you don’t have to do it alone!

Tell your friends and family about your goals. You’re more likely to get support and want to avoid failure if someone is asking you how you’re getting on. And knowing you’ve told someone you’ll be doing ‘x’ means you won’t be able to ‘forget’ or just skip it for a day or two, or three…

Get some help

Some goals are easier to complete on your own, but others need some preparation and you may need help. For instance if you wanted to learn a new language, you would have to go for lessons, or buy a book or CD. Losing weight, quitting smoking or changing your eating habits is another one where you may need help. If you decide that one of these is your goal, then there is a lot of help out there for you. The Better Living website is full of tips and advice on keeping healthy, and the Better Living app is perfect for helping you set and keep to a New Year’s resolution. It’s all about setting a goal, keeping you motivated and tracking your progress. Read more about it here.

You should speak to your healthcare team for advice before you make any major changes to your diet or take up a new exercise. They may also be able to point you in the direction of trained professionals, websites or programmes that can help you set realistic goals around lifestyle changes, and then guide you on how best to achieve them.

Staying motivated

It’s easy to set a goal in the excitement of a New Year on the horizon, but staying motivated can be tougher. When you have bad days, keep the ‘why’ in mind, which is why it’s important to have it written down. Remembering ‘why’ you decided to set your specific goal can help you to get past those blips where it all seems too much.

And remember, we’re all human, and we all fall down now and again. If you slip back into comfortable old habits, it’s not the end of the world. Try to see slip-ups as blips, just bumps on the road to success, rather than a reason to give up completely.

Keeping this advice in mind should help you to set realistic, exciting goals that you can achieve and that will make you feel better about yourself and enrich your life. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and change your life!