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How to make successful New Year’s resolutions

Tamara Willner
Written by

Tamara Willner

Medically reviewed by

Fiona Moncrieff

4 min read
Last updated May 2024

‘New year, new me’ is a popular phrase as January approaches. It’s very common to set ourselves unrealistic and unattainable goals for the new year.

When we can’t achieve these goals or we experience a slip-up, it can be followed by feelings of guilt. This is counterproductive and can lead to a cycle of binge behaviours.

Here are our top tips to give yourself the best chance of sticking to your resolutions.

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1) Consider ‘action’ resolutions

Restrictive resolutions, such as ‘I will give up alcohol’, are very common. For some people, these will work. However, if you know you struggle with rules and restrictions, it might work better to think of positive action resolutions, such as ‘I will stick to having 2 alcoholic drinks a week rather than 6’.

2) Stick to 1 habit

When we have 5 different resolutions on the go, it can be overwhelming and result in us not achieving any of our goals. A much better way to approach resolutions is to choose 1 new habit to focus on, and then add any others later (once the first habit is ingrained in your daily routine).

3) Start small

James Clear, a leading author on the topic of habit change, suggests sticking to the 2 minute rule. Whatever habit you’re trying to adopt, practise it for 2 minutes at a time so it doesn’t feel like a chore. Then, when this feels more automatic, increase the time to 5 minutes, 10 minutes etc.

For example, if your end goal is to start exercising more, it’s unrealistic to go from no exercise to exercising for an hour each day. Start by setting a smaller, more realistic goal, such as ‘I will do 2 minutes of sit-ups every day when I wake up’. Then, when doing 2 mins of exercise in the morning feels more natural, try increasing this to 5 minutes, and then 10 minutes. It could take a few weeks/months to reach your goal, but that is better than failing in January and giving up!

You’ll feel a greater sense of achievement if you can manage to do 2 minutes of sit-ups each day rather than aiming for 20 minutes, failing, and giving up. You’re also much more likely to make it to 20 minutes and be able to stick to it if you start with 2 minutes.

Another example is if your end goal is to start meditating, it’s unrealistic to go from not meditating at all to meditating for 20 minutes every day. Start with the resolution to do 2 minutes of deep breathing each day. Then, when this feels like part of your routine, increase it to 5 minutes. Meditation apps, like Headspace and Calm, can help you track your progress and remind you.

4) Find a buddy

Research suggests that we are far more likely to achieve our goals when we feel a sense of accountability from another individual or group. Try finding a buddy to make the same resolutions as you and agree to message each other regularly to hold each other accountable.

If your goals are health-related, consider joining the Second Nature program. When you join Second Nature, the app gives you access to a group of other members on a similar journey. You’re also assigned a qualified nutrition specialist as your coach who keeps you accountable and you can message daily.

Second Nature coaches are all UK registered dietitians or nutritionists. This means they have completed university accredited degrees to gain this professional title. However, coaches are not registered in the US, so don’t meet the regulatory requirements to be considered US registered dietitians or nutritionists.

5) Remind yourself

Sometimes it’s easy to go about our busy lives, engaging in automatic behaviours, and simply forget to carry out our resolutions. Try adding reminders on your mobile to pop up at certain times, or putting post-it notes on your bathroom mirror/fridge. On the Second Nature program, you can track all of the new habits you want to build and look back on your progress.

6) Expect a few slip-ups

Lastly, it’s ok to experience a slip-up occasionally when we are making lifestyle changes. The important thing is how we respond. To avoid harbouring guilt, try to avoid the all-or-nothing mindset. If you revert back to old habits for one day, it does not mean that the rest of your week needs to be written off.

If you break your New Year’s resolution, that’s ok! We are all only human. Just remind yourself of your goals and try to get back on track. If you’re struggling with recurring slip-ups, it might be that your resolutions are too ambitious, in which case consider breaking it down and choosing 1 smaller one.

Examples of realistic resolutions

I will try to:

  • limit myself to 2 alcoholic drinks a week
  • do 2 minutes of gentle exercise in my room each morning when I wake up to get into the habit
  • plan my meals for weekdays
  • do 2 minutes of deep breathing every day when I wake up to get into the habit
  • ask friends/family members to go for a long walk rather than a coffee
  • eat some > 70% dark chocolate when I am craving chocolate rather than milk or white chocolate
  • drink water with my meals instead of fizzy drinks or juice.
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