New Year’s resolutions are back in full swing. At one point or another, we have all looked forward to “starting our health journey” at the beginning of a new year. With the best of intentions, we set resolutions that inevitably fizzle out, lasting no longer than 7 days and leaving us with nothing but broken promises. And yet, the following year we repeat the cycle with a similar goal we’ve been waiting 358 days to restart on.

Setting a resolution or intention is an important step towards making positive change. But to sustain those changes, we need to learn and build new habits as we break and change old habits. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight.

Instead of resolving to change your habits for the first few weeks of the year, practice building healthy habits year-round. This year, skip the bound-to-fail New Year’s resolutions and, instead, take these actions for more sustainable change. 

Why We Make Resolutions

A resolution is a firm decision to do or not do something. At the start of each new year, many of us set a resolution attempting to improve our lives. 

Resolutions are not inherently bad. The idea behind them is encouraging and positive. Having a set date to make changes can give us the boost of inspiration we need to accomplish goals or break habits we have been thinking about for months. 

Common health resolutions

In 2021 the most common New Year’s resolutions focused on health and finances. The top three health-related resolutions were:

  1. Exercise more or improve fitness levels
  2. Lose weight 
  3. Improve overall diet

Although the most popular resolutions were weight- and diet-related, the health of people living in the U.S. continues to decline, with chronic diseases—the top cause of death and disability in the U.S.— causing 7 out of 10 deaths each year. If so many of us are setting resolutions to become healthier, why isn’t it working? 

In short, most of us aren’t great at following through on our resolutions. Many of us succumb to the appeal of resolutions but then get caught up in the mindset that we can only make changes in the first weeks of the year. And if we have not accomplished our goal by the end of January, we lose interest or feel we have failed. In fact, only about 19% of us successfully sustain our New Year’s resolutions. 

Why Resolutions Fail 

If you didn’t follow through on your resolutions last year, you are not alone. Nearly 81% of resolutions fail. There are more unkempt resolutions than people who keep them, and almost everyone has set a New Years’ resolution at some point. 

Sustaining resolutions involves more than just writing them down at the beginning of the year. Even with the best of intentions, factors including stress, our environment, access to healthcare, and so many others all affect our ability to make changes. And while our health and wellness goals may be a high priority, they are not always at the top of our minds when day-to-day life gets in the way. 

Here are some common reasons why keeping resolutions can be a challenge:

1. We try to reach our goals too fast

Creating new habits takes time. There is no sprint to the finish line. Taking on too big of a goal all at once is a perfect setup for quick burnout and will leave you right back where you started. Remember, the habit you’re trying to break didn't take hours to make, so it may take just as long if not longer to break or change it.

Try this: Instead of sprinting to reach your goal right away, think of behavior change as a marathon and enjoy the journey. If your ultimate goal is to take a multivitamin every day but you keep forgetting, try setting an initial goal of 3 days a week instead.

2. We get discouraged by negative resolutions instead of setting positive ones

Often when setting resolutions, we frame them in a negative way. For instance, you might resolve to “stop eating junk food.” But this type of resolution can leave you feeling bad or guilty if you do indulge in junk food when you’re having an off day. This can ultimately discourage you and may lead you to abandon your goal entirely. We are more likely to succeed on goals when we add something positive rather than simply take something negative away. 

Try this: Reframe your goal positively. Instead of resolving to “stop eating treats before bed,” try “I will eat enough healthy food and snacks during the day so I am not hungry for cookies in the evening.”  

3. We don’t believe in ourselves  

To make a lifestyle change you must both want to do it and believe you can succeed. Without believing in yourself you are more likely to sabotage yourself and your goals. 

Try this: Boost your confidence—and your ability to succeed—by acknowledging and celebrating your small wins every day. Set small milestones and reward yourself with something useful when you hit them so you have something to look forward to and keep your spirits up—a reusable water bottle, a facial roller, or essential oils are all great, healthy rewards. 

4. We don’t track our progress

Research shows that people who track their progress are more likely to succeed at making healthy changes. Without tracking progress, it can be hard to see how small changes add up over time. 

How you track progress can look different from person to person and even from goal to goal. Weekly weigh-ins, a journal of symptoms and emotions, or a log of running speed or distance over time are all great ways to track and see your progress. Find a way that inspires you. 

Try this: Keep track of your progress so you can see how far you’ve come. Little changes can add up to big wins over time.  

5. Our resolutions aren’t specific enough

Vague resolutions, like “I will lose weight” or “I will eat healthier,” leave no room for concrete action. With no actionable steps to reach your goal, you are less likely to set yourself on a path for success. 

Try this: Consider what specific steps you will take to achieve your goals and include those in your resolutions. Add as much detail as possible to your goals to make them easier to achieve, track, and modify when needed. For example, “I will enjoy one green smoothie on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before work.”

Alternatives to Resolutions

Lose the all-or-nothing mindset and start working on your goals today. Use this formula to make setting and keeping goals an easy task year-round. There are two types of goals:

  • Short-term goals: These are smaller goals that you can realistically achieve within the next week or month.
  • Long-term goals: These are goals you wish to accomplish in the distant future. 

Your short-term goals are smaller goals that, over time, lead you to achieve your long-term goals. Let’s use running as an example. While your long-term goal might be to run a marathon, short-term goals make up your steps between now and marathon day. A short-term goal could be “I will run one mile three times this week.” Once you’ve met that goal you can add additional days and miles until you’re eventually able to run the full 26.2 miles in a marathon. 

Set SMART Goals

Once you have a long-term goal in mind, use the following formula to create SMART short-term goals that will set you up for success. Remember, achievable goals are: 

  • Specific: Outline in detail what specific actions you will take to achieve this goal. 
  • Measurable: Consider how you will measure successful completion of your goal. (e.g., how much, how often)
  • Achievable: Ask yourself, “Is this doable?” Your goals should challenge you a little, but still be achievable given your starting point, time, and resources. 
  • Realistic: Be sure your goal is realistic. How does it align with your other goals? Why is this goal important to you now?
  • Timely: When will you complete your goal? What is your timeframe? (1 week, 1 month?)

SMART goals are clearly defined and more manageable than loose promises to yourself. Try setting a SMART goal for yourself now and write it down to start working on today. 

Sustainable Change Any Time of Year

The best thing to do when you are ready to make a lifestyle change? Take that first step. That’s right, no matter what time of year it is, just get started. No need to wait until the new year to begin your journey towards the new you. Start where you are now. Don’t wait until the opportunity is perfect because there really is never a perfect time. If the opportunity arises, take it—it may not still be there in January. 

Reminder: You don’t have to wait until the first of the year to get started. The best time to start is now.     


New Year’s Resolutions seem like a great idea in theory—but in practice, they fail more often than not. Instead of setting resolutions at the start of the year, set SMART goals for yourself all year round. 

Remember to revisit and revise your goals periodically to make sure they are practical and sustainable. Consider enlisting a friend, loved one, or even a professional, like a registered dietitian, to keep you accountable and help you stay on track. 

And most importantly, don’t give up on yourself—good things take time! 


  3. Norcross JC, Vangarelli DJ. The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. J Subst Abuse. 1988;1(2):127-134.