Tips for making resolutions work

Woman stretching arms looking at sunrise for New Year's Resolutions blog post

Now is the time many people make New Year’s resolutions…Save money. Eat better. Lose weight. Stop smoking. Studies have shown that about 41 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions, but only about 8 percent are successful in achieving their goals.

It's easy to be seduced by the promise of “new year, new you,” only to be disappointed come April. Don’t let past failures dissuade you from letting this be your year. Instead, revise your goal-setting process for optimal results.

Resolutions are just goals with a little holiday flair and the principles of goal-setting are simple. This year, stick to the following principles to make the most of your resolutions and create lasting change.

Set goals that are specific, realistic and measurable.

While "Take better care of myself" is a lovely thought, it's much easier to measure progress if you pledge to spend at least 60 minutes in leisure activity each week. Instead of pledging to "be healthier," set a goal of exercising five times per week for 30 minutes. 

Choose goals with broad impact.

It's tempting to try to compartmentalize and focus on one area at a time— “I really need to focus on my career right now, I’ll get to my personal life next year.” But a better approach is to create resolutions that simultaneously enhance multiple areas of your life. For example, resolving to live in the moment can enhance your life personally and professionally.

Work toward goals that align with your values.

Your energy and time are precious and finite resources. If you’re crafting resolutions that are not in line with your values, you’ll be less motivated to work toward them. More importantly, achieving them won’t feel particularly good.  Evaluate your goals and prioritize those that are in synch with what is most important to you.

Don’t overdo it.

Many of us are already spread too thin; don’t add to the stress by piling on resolutions.  Focus your energy on no more than two to three goals at a time.  Rank your resolutions in order of importance (keeping in mind the above). Start the year with a few; you can always hold the others and reassess mid-year. 

Find support.

Change is difficult, even when the change is good. Find a friend or loved one to support you – better yet, join you – so that it’s easier keep the momentum going when you hit a bump in the road. 


Expect those bumps. Too often, people view a lapse as the end. For example, you’ve resolved to exercise three times a week and you skip a week (or two or three…). Change is a process, not an outcome.  As such, change requires upkeep. When you slip, rather than give up, figure out what went wrong and get back on track.

Kristen Carpenter, PhD, is director of Women’s Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Assistant Professor, Psychiatry & Behavioral Health, Psychology, Obstetrics & Gynecology at The Ohio State University.

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