How to Create Lasting Change (and Actually Stick With Your New Year’s Resolutions)

friends supporting each other to create lasting change

Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 lies a blank slate of endless possibilities, and on no day does it feel more hopeful than New Year’s Eve. New Year’s resolutions are an opportunity to dream of all the things we want to achieve. The energy is aspirational, but is that where it ends? And how do we keep that momentum going and create lasting change? 

Karin Nordin is a behavioral change coach with a Ph.D. in health communication. She’s also the founder and CEO of Body Brain Alliance, a coaching organization dedicated to helping people create lasting change with a self-compassionate approach.  

Nordin loves New Year’s resolutions because they offer a fresh chance to track habits regularly. She believes they are beneficial regardless of how long you stick with them. For example, if you resolve to do yoga every week but you stop doing it after the first month, you’ll still have gained the benefits from that month of yoga. By recognizing that any level of progress is still progress, you can approach your resolutions with less pressure. 

Nordin also says that one of the best ways to stick with your New Year’s resolutions is by being compassionate with yourself in the way you approach your resolutions. How does that look? Nordin has three strategies to create lasting change. 

1. Find social support

Surround yourself with people who are rooting for your success, Nordin advises. She points to cases of people who have made significant changes, such as quitting smoking. Typically, they have a strong network of social support and accountability, whether from friends, family or online communities.

Thinking about what motivates you and what your potential obstacles are can help you figure out the best type of social support. For example, a parent looking to exercise more might connect with a parent group who takes walks in the park. Or maybe they ask a friend to help with child care once or twice a month. Those who love social events but want to reduce their alcohol intake can find online communities that host mocktail meetups. 

No matter which category you fall into, Nordin recommends thinking about how you’re communicating your goals before you share them. If you decide to go the route of announcing your goals on social media, to friend groups or to family, do so with specific intentions. And let people know what kind of support you need to meet your goal. 

2. Take radical responsibility 

When things go wrong or inconveniences arise, it’s easy to find excuses. To create lasting change, it’s crucial to own up to your decisions with radical responsibility instead of blaming your actions on someone else.

“Radical responsibility is the most [self-]compassionate thing you can do, because radical responsibility shows you why you made a specific choice,” Nordin says. “It illuminates your reasoning, and you can either say, ‘I want to change that,’ or, ‘I actually really agree with the decision I made.’”

Radical responsibility is difficult because it requires facing your decisions and looking deeper at the motivation behind them. Many of us are quick to label our decisions as lazy when we opt out of doing what we know we should be doing. But, oftentimes, there’s much more going on, Nordin says. 

“If you can get clear and treat all your brain obstacles as real obstacles instead of rushing away and using your excuses, you can really learn from them,” Nordin says. 

Oftentimes, the real obstacle can be chronic stress or fatigue, or feeling a lack of safety and security or comfort. If you notice resistance toward a behavior, ask yourself what you’re needing right now and why. Maybe you need a bit of comfort or rest, Nordin says. When you’re honest with yourself about what you need, you can be more intentional about your decisions and why you’re making those decisions. You may need to give yourself permission to rest first to create a better environment to move through the resistance. 

3. Listen to your deeper values to create lasting change

“Many people set goals without connecting them to their deeper values,” Nordin says. Creating a goal for a goal’s sake isn’t bad, but it’s not as helpful for long-term change. To create value-oriented goals, Nordin recommends thinking about the kind of values that you want your future self to have. Do you want to be someone who prioritizes peace, adventure or health? Think about the habits that could help you embody those elements. Or, if you have a specific goal, identify why you want to achieve that goal. Nordin also has a free road map to help people create value-oriented goals

Anchoring your habits to values can offer a wider and more compassionate lens with which to view your behavior. You may lose momentum with one goal but still be progressing toward the overall value. It takes the pressure off of your New Year’s resolutions because you’re operating from a more holistic perspective.

Is your goal to eat more whole foods to feel healthier? Even if you didn’t eat your allotted veggies for the week, you may still be making decisions to prioritize your health in other ways, such as opting for the stairs rather than the elevator or cooking at home instead of eating out. Failing at one resolution does not mean that you’re failing at your values. Having a broader view of what you’re pursuing and why can allow you to jump back into that resolution without the feelings of shame and disappointment that often keep us from re-upping habits. 

As you go into the new year, Nordin stresses the importance of self-compassion. “You can’t hate yourself into change,” she says. It’s not about fixing your life; it’s about intentionally creating a life that aligns with your values. 

The beauty of tracking resolutions and goals is that it can transform your life in ways that you may not expect, Nordin says. As you become more aware of your behaviors and habits, you can live a life that is more intentional and fulfilling because you are operating from your values.

Photo by BalanceFormCreative/Shutterstock

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Iona Brannon is a freelance journalist based in the U.S. You can read more of her work at ionabrannon.com.

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