How to Set Solid Resolutions

UPDATED: December 29, 2017
PUBLISHED: December 29, 2017

New Year’s resolutions are ubiquitous and, more often than not, colossal failures. Researchers say less than 50 percent of resolutions are abandoned after only three months. Ultimately, fewer than 20 percent of New Year’s resolutions are successful.

Related: Do These 5 Things to (Actually) Stick to Your Goals

The key to staying on track to lose weight, spend more time with family or reach personal finance goals is in the setup as much as the execution. Next month in How To, we’ll discuss ways you can stay on track through the whole year, but the first step—goal-setting—is most important. The case studies that follow offer real-life resolution wins and bombs, but here are some guidelines for reaching your goals this year and onward.

  • Be realistic. If you have struggled with your weight for a lifetime, expecting yourself to lose your belly fat by swimsuit season might be too big a mountain to climb.
  • Inspire yourself. Create a goal that makes you excited. For example, if you really want to get your spending under control, set a savings goal for an experience that you cannot wait to do. For example, “Pay off my credit card and save $3,000 so I can join my best friends on a trip to Cuba this winter.”
  • Identify and trust the process. If your goal is weight loss, the goal might not be a specific weight, but hiring a nutritionist, exercising two days weekly, and cutting sugar out of your diet.
  • Celebrate the wins. In addition to big goals, identify smaller landmarks to recognize, and bake in how you will celebrate. Growing your business to a certain sales figure might be met with the reward of a new laptop, or great tickets to a sporting event. Keep the good vibes going all year long.

The key to staying on track to lose weight, spend more time with family or reach personal finance goals is in the setup as much as the execution.


SarahShawSarah Shaw

53; product launch consultant, founder of Sarah Shaw Consulting and podcast host; Durango, Colorado

For years I did New Year’s resolutions all wrong. I’d over-commit myself, have lofty ideas about what to tackle in my personal and professional lives, and essentially over-promise and under-deliver. Everyone would be let down in my various projects, including me. Then I learned to make the ultimate commitment to each goal and not only write down that objective, but about 50 micro-steps it would take to get there. Each goal would end up taking pages and pages of notebook space. If the goal requires saving money, I set up a separate bank account and a system for putting away a certain sum. Last year I set the goal of creating an online course, which I couldn’t do on my own and I had no experience with. So I created a long to-do list that included finding a partner to help me, and all the tiny steps required to create, launch and run the program. It worked: The program launched and is now profitable.

LauraAllen Laura Allen

46; founder of and public relations coach; New York City

My biggest problem was being too vague. In the past, I’d set goals like, “make more money.” That got me nowhere. The key has been for me to create very specific goals. For example, in my business, last year I wanted to grow my bottom line, so I set a very specific income goal. I calculated that I needed 10 new clients to get there, and I could work against that metric. But it needed to be even more specific so that I could visualize what I wanted my life to look like and then make it happen. This also included being super-specific about who my ideal client is. In the past two years, I have been exceeding my goals, and I have never been happier with the work I do each day.


Susan Peirce Thompson

43; adjunct associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester and founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating; Rochester, New York

In the past, I was very ambitious come Jan. 1 and would create what I call brittle resolutions—meaning that if I fell off track because life got in the way, the whole goal was blown. For example, a few years ago I created a big calendar on the wall to track my New Year’s resolutions: Exercise Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, blog every single Wednesday, and meditate 30 minutes every single day. I was actually perfect in accomplishing my goals until the fall, when I had a major business challenge, and everything in my life was put on hold, including those fitness goals.

Now I create flexible frameworks. Instead of specific daily goals, I set out to exercise 14 times per month. That way, if I get sick or have to travel and miss a few days of working out, I am more incentivized to exercise to meet my goal and not give up like I would have under my brittle regimen.

Related: 5 Expert Tips to Simplify Your Goals


This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Emma Johnson is a business journalist, gender-equality activist, and founder of the world's largest community of single moms, Emma and her best-selling book, The Kickass Single Mom, and her organization, Moms for Shared Parenting, have been featured in hundreds of national and international media outlets.