5 Strategies for Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Work

UPDATED: January 31, 2023
PUBLISHED: January 29, 2023
man thinking about goals

The new year can be an opportunity for a new beginning, a new chance to reach your goals. But will you actually take the chance to start over, to aim for bigger and better things? Surprisingly, many don’t. 

Only 29% of people planned to make a New Year’s resolution in 2022, according to a CBS News poll. Why? Perhaps 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 2023, according to a 2022 Forbes Health/OnePoll survey:

  1. “Improved mental health (45%)”
  2. “Improved fitness (39%)”
  3. “Lose weight (37%)”
  4. “Improved diet (33%)”
  5. “Improved finances (30%)”

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

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 belief 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 coffee meetings 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 beyond what was first envisioned. ​

How to reach your goals

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

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 from 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 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. With an open mind, zero in on the things you can influence and begin working on them.

3. Decide what you can start this month—no matter how small. 

What can I do right now, this month, to move toward reaching my goal of spending more time with my family? The first step may be as simple as going into work 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. Or find someone who has similar goals and compare their successes to yours so you can determine how to revise your plan. Additionally, you can share your intent with others to increase your own commitment.

5. Repeat monthly to reach your goals. 

Repeat numbers 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 make another small change that adds onto 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 2023 closes its doors. But first you have to start.

How will you get started in 2023?

This article was published in January 2015 and has been updated. Photo by GaudiLab/Shutterstock

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.