Top tips for making and sticking with your New Year’s resolution

Coventry University psychologist Rachael Molitor wearing a red flowery dress looking off to the side of the camera

Coventry University psychologist Rachael Molitor

University news / Student news

Thursday 21 December 2023

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It’s that time of year again where people up and down the country are preparing for ‘new year, new me’ and have set their sights on a New Year’s resolution.

Whether it’s to get in shape, quit the booze or learn a new skill, good intentions are always high, but as the weeks go by they often fall by the wayside.

So how do you set a realistic objective and stick to it? Coventry University psychology expert Dr Rachael Molitor has put together her top tips to help you SMASH those New Year’s resolutions.

They include:

  • Choose a realistic and achievable goal
  • Ensure it’s a positive plan
  • Rewarding yourself as you go along
  • Remembering a setback is not the end of the road
  • It takes 21 days to create a habit, 66 days before you can do it automatically without thinking and 90 days for it to be engrained within your lifestyle.

Set foundations

Before you start with a resolution, goal or action, it’s important you set the foundation of what you actually want to achieve. Preparing for the action both psychologically and mentally sets the foundation for success.

Choose important, realistic and achievable goals, making small and specific changes within your everyday life. Choosing a positive over a negative resolution will help to make those manageable steps to a positive mindset.

Consider the potential pathways to achieving your goal and anything that could hold you back. By understanding the potential risks and challenges to achieving your goals, you can plan how you will overcome these.

Making plans

Form a practical and realistic strategy to make your behaviour change possible. Research shows that setting goals increases the success of achieving in both the short and long term. As such, using SMART goals are a great way to measure your goal and see success; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

So instead of ‘I’m going to go to get fitter’ try ‘at least three times a week I will set my alarm 30 minutes early and get up and do a fitness video before I start my day’. Many resolutions may start too large, such as ‘I’m going do a fitness video every day’, if something then gets in your way and prevents you from doing it for one single day it may feel like a failure and less likely to continue onwards.

Positive plans are also important here, instead of ‘I’m going to stop smoking’, try ‘I’m going to be smoke-free’. We all have slip-ups in our habit formation, but looking at a positive mindset helps us to continue on the behaviour even if we have small setbacks.

Activate and engage

We’ve made plans, we can see our barriers and we how to overcome them. Now it's time to activate and engage, put your resolution into practice. Do this by exchanging any negative behaviours for positive, also known as counter-conditioning.

If you want to watch TV instead of going to the gym, put it on to record and watch it afterwards as a reward. Rewarding yourself for small changes makes a huge difference and means you are more likely to achieve what you set out to do.

Write down one positive thing you’ve achieved each day that you can look back on and see how much you have already changed.

Step forwards

We’ve all played snakes and ladders, and life is no different. There are times when we feel like we are doing amazing, climbing the ladder in success actions and behaviours, and times where we slide down the snake and feel that we are going wrong.

It is always important to look forwards. There may be times where we take four steps forwards and one step back, but all in all we’re still three steps further forward than when we started. Looking at the positive steps you’ve already made will help to show how far you have come.

Breaking your goals up into easy to manage, small but successful steps, known as sub-goals, will allow us to feel the benefits of achieving them. Remember all of us have setbacks, but it’s how we deal with these, stepping forwards when we can and take a breather when you need to.

Habit formation

It takes three weeks to form a habit. Remember this when you find it hard after the first weekend or when someone tells you how long you have left. Research shows that it takes 21 days to create a habit, 66 days before you can do it automatically without thinking and 90 days for it to be engrained within your lifestyle.

Resolutions are not just for New Year; they are long-term and should become automatic within your everyday life. This is why it is so important to choose a resolution that is achievable, manageable and beneficial for you to continue.

Once this new habit is formed, it’s important to continue practicing your behaviours and keep a focus on the benefits of that behaviour change. Think about how fitter you have become by doing that exercise, how much clearer your mind is after practising yoga, how much healthier you feel after going smoke free - seeing the practical changes in yourself will help to sustain that healthy change.

Find out more about Coventry University’s psychology course.