5 Strategies for Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Work

The New Year can be an opportunity for a new beginning, but will you actually take the chance to start over, to aim for bigger and better things? Surprisingly, many don’t. 

Only 45 percent of us typically make New Year’s resolutions, according to a University of Scranton study published by Statistic Brain. Why? Because the goals can seem too big, the fear of failure stops us or we’ve simply decided resolutions just don’t work.

Why don’t they work? Well, look at the top five resolutions for 2014: 

  1. Lose weight
  2. Get organized
  3. Spend less and save more
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest
  5. Stay fit and healthy

These are large-scale changes that can’t be accomplished with one simple habit tweak or schedule adjustment. But even big, bold changes can start with simple changes—if you focus on just today, just this week or just this month.

Related: 4 New Year’s Resolutions You Should Make (and Keep) to Guarantee Your Success

While researching for my book Make Waves, I found that significant changes often have a small or seemingly inconsequential beginning.  First steps are based on the beliefs that I can do something, I can make this situation better, or I see the possibilities here. These beliefs coupled with a commitment to a small first step, like setting daily coffees with experts to learn about starting a business or starting a family game night to spend more time together, become significant in retrospect and can lead to change even beyond what was first envisioned. ​

Thinking big and starting small is a concept that entrepreneurs, innovators and change leaders understand. Apply that to your new year and show that daunting resolution who’s boss. Here’s how:

1. Describe what you want to be different in your life. What is happening when this change occurs? How are you feeling? How will the experience be different than today?

Describing this can be very motivational, but more importantly it can help you envision the future beyond surface-level goals. This is your chance to create a unique picture of your intended direction and purpose that will, of course, evolve as the year progresses.

2. Contrast this to your life today. If your resolution is to enjoy life to the fullest, maybe you are working too many hours or there’s just too much repetition and routine in your days.

Explore what is causing the gap first. What is in your control? Probably more than you think. Zero in on those things, the things you can influence, with a very open mind.

Related: 44 Ways to Kick-Start Your New Year

3. Decide what you can get started in January—no matter how small. What can I do right now, this month, to move toward my goal of spending more time with my family? The first step may be as simple as going in earlier two days a week to get home earlier in the evening or deciding to treat children’s events with the same respect as a client meeting. Make those one or two small changes—and then stick to them.

4. Ask, What’s working for me? We are all motivated in different ways. Explore what’s working for you and what isn’t and then adjust—don’t give up.  Or find someone who has similar goals and compare their successes and determine revisions to your plan. Sharing intent with others increases commitment.

5. Repeat monthly. Repeat number three and four in February, March, April and so on. Ask yourself, How can I build on that one change I made last month in a way that moves me where I want to be? Decide to add another small change that adds on to what you have already accomplished. 

When goals seem too audacious, our brains will find a good reason not to begin. Our procrastination, perfectionism and fear of failure greet us as we look into the new year. So forget New Year’s resolutions and try monthly resolutions instead, ones that build onto each other.

If you commit and layer on month by month, you’ll see notable progress as 2015 closes its doors. But first you have to start.

As Brett Hurt, the co-creator of Bazaarvoice, said, “Motion creates motion. Momentum creates momentum.”

How will you get started in 2015?

Related: The 4 Powerful Ways to Change a Bad Habit


Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.

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