Skip to main content

Top 5 tips for keeping New Year’s resolutions

ASU professor suggests focusing on a narrow goal for the best chance at success

Students exercising

If you choose getting fit as a New Year's resolution, be sure to celebrate your small wins to stay motivated.

December 17, 2018

Do you make resolutions every New Year's but find by February or March that those goals start to disappear from focus? You’re not alone. U.S. News reports that by the second week of February, some 80 percent of resolutions fail.

According to Sarah Tracy, a Herberger professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University, people often fail because they choose too many resolutions at once.

Plus, succeeding in just one new change can often result in a number of positive effects, said Tracy. For example, waking up early to exercise may encourage healthier sleeping and eating habits later in the day. “The key is to choose something that is feasible, yet stretching,” she said. “(Your goal) should be something that is doable — not a wild dream — but still stretches you to a new place.”

How people consider their new goals has an impact as well. Tracy encourages people to consider their desired goals as commitments and habits, rather than resolutions, and to consider introducing the new goal or commitment at a time when a person’s routine is already disrupted.

“Habits are location- and time-based, so a perfect time to stop a bad habit or begin a new one is when your routine is already out of whack,” she explained.

In the end, even if you find yourself in the company of the failed goal-setters, Tracy advocates to not be too hard on yourself.

“When modifying our behavior, I believe it's really important and valuable to be compassionate and generous with yourself. If you fall off the wagon, just dust yourself off. It may be that your original goal was a bit too stretching or just wrong for you at this chapter in your life, and it's perfectly fine to recalibrate. It's also super important to celebrate small victories and ask others to celebrate with you,” she said.

Top 5 tips for keeping New Year’s resolutions

  1. Choose one important commitment rather than a bunch all at once.

  2. Rather than simply stopping a bad habit, replace it with a new habit.

  3. Celebrate small wins.

  4. Keep flexing your discipline muscle for six weeks if you want the habit to stick.  

  5. Talk to others about your resolution and ask them to check in on your progress to help keep you accountable.

More Health and medicine


abstract image of vital sign indicator line with a heart between two hands

Does low testosterone lead to heart disease?

Is low testosterone a contributor to cardiovascular disease? Is testosterone replacement the answer? It's a bit more complicated…

February 20, 2024
Close-up view of a microphone.

ASU college to launch Speakers Bureau focused on health topics

Dean Judith Karshmer believes a misnomer exists about Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation…

February 09, 2024
People seated in a circle talking.

ASU REACH Institute, Center for Resilient Families host event to promote family resilience

Childhood trauma isn’t always preventable. But what researchers do know is that engaging parents in their children’s healing has…

February 08, 2024