Health / Expert Advice

Here’s Why Small Steps Are the Key to Making Resolutions Stick

5 Tips to go beyond the resolution and make lasting change for the year.

It’s that time of year again when we’re steadfastly focused on following through with the new year’s resolutions that we’ve set out for ourselves. The concept of setting new year’s resolutions is time-honored—history books estimate that this tradition began some 4,000 years ago—yet only, to this day, only some 91 percent of people fail to complete them. 

The struggle is real: why most people fail

It’s true that even the most committed doers fall short of making it through the entire year honoring the new year’s resolutions that they set out for themselves. The main reason for this, according to Lianna Nielsen, an integrative nutrition health coach, is because the actual goals that many people set are either unrealistic or superficial. “When goals are too lofty and not enough time, energy or space is dedicated to achieving them, it’s easier and less overwhelming to simply let them go,” she explains. “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a day (while underestimating what they can accomplish in a year) and simply don’t have enough extra time or mental capacity to implement such large or rapid changes, which can quickly become overwhelming if we see ourselves “failing” nearly from the start.”

Nielsen also points out that it’s quite common for people to create resolutions based on how they want to look or feel without actually taking the time to dig deeper into their true feelings. “Often, we hope a simple lifestyle or diet change will address issues that actually stem from a lack of self-esteem, stress, loneliness or even trauma,” she says. “When these superficial changes don’t lead to the new desired feelings it’s very easy to get discouraged and quit.”

The benefits of making resolutions

This is not to say that making new year’s resolutions is useless. In fact, there are many benefits to the endeavor. For starters, Nielsen points out that they serve as an opportunity for you to see what’s working, what isn’t and decide what you can do to make your life more joyful and enriched. Additionally, she notes that many resolutions involve learning a new skill or an increased knowledge about health and wellness.

There may also be an element of community too, notes Paulette Sherman, PsyD, psychologist, director of the site My Dating & Relationship School, and author of Dating from the Inside Out, because friends and family are also working on their goals at this time. “Many of my clients create a vision board too, or a vision of how they want their next year to look and how they want to feel,” she says. 

If you’ve set new year’s resolutions that you want to stick, follow these expert tips.


1. Start small

Instead of creating large, lofty goals, consider small wins that will make it easier to keep going, like getting to bed 20 minutes earlier, working out 1-2 times per week, adding a 5-minute meditation to your day, etc. “Making smaller incremental changes is the easiest way to build new lasting habits,” says Nielsen. “Any accomplishment, no matter how small, releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which boosts your mood, motivation and attention and also signals you to keep doing the activity again and again.”

2. Create an actionable plan

Instead of just winging it, consider coming up with a strategic and specific plan as to how you will reach your new year’s resolutions. “For instance, if the goal is to read more, plan to read one book a month, or if the goal is to exercise more then add in 3 days of strength training instead of 2,” suggests Brooke Taylor, fitness instructor and creator of TFIGNITE PROGRAM and Taylored Fitness. “It all adds up over time in big ways. 

3. Build a solid support system

Taylor recommends sharing your resolutions with friends or family who can offer encouragement and accountability. “Enroll in a challenge, subscribe to an app, so that you surround yourself with like minded people,” she says. “This will encourage that behavior even further and keep you motivated.” 

4. Let go of the all-or-nothing mentality

Whenever you’re trying to make changes in life, big or small, you can expect setbacks, notes Nielsen. The key to navigating these setbacks is being kind and gentle with yourself. “We are always going to fall down but it’s how we get back up that determines our ability to create lives we love,” she says. “Any perceived failure is actually an opportunity to learn more about ourselves.” She recommends trying to approach setbacks with curiosity instead of judgment, which can help you learn and move forward much more quickly. “If you accept that some form of failure comes with anything new we try, and allow it to be part of the process, you won’t be as tempted to quit,” she adds. 

5. Have more fun with your goals

Give yourself permission to have fun with your new year’s resolutions. Doing so can actually help you stick to them, according to Nielsen. “So often we look at self-improvement from a very serious lens that can sometimes feel like punishment, which can easily lead to failure that spirals into more negative feelings and/or behaviors,” she says. “Even very silly and light resolutions designed to make us laugh, connect to people we love, or enjoy life more will lead to us feeling happier in our daily lives and the happier we are the healthier we are.”

Expert Advice


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