One of the most common practices that comes with entering a new year is the practice of creating New Year’s resolutions. Each year millions of Americans create goals and resolutions around improving their health and wellbeing. This can include goals to eat healthier, consume less alcohol, exercise more frequently or lose weight. However, recent research into the success of these kinds of resolutions found only about 55% of individuals felt they had achieved their goals.

There are many reasons New Year’s resolutions can fail, but tips from those working in counseling and the medical field may improve the chances of sticking to them. Experts state there are three main reasons resolutions fail:

•Unrealistic goals: Overly ambitious goals, such as a sudden immediate or dramatic change can backfire. A small setback can make the goal feel impossible or too hard to achieve.

•Lack of planning: It is easy to set a very specific goal during the holiday season. However, if you do not plan ahead, it can become very difficult to implement. For example, if one sets the goal of eating healthier, but does not get healthy food in their living space it can be very difficult to stick to or define success.

•Not tracking progress: If you don’t document the ways you are sticking to your resolution it can be very difficult to know if you are successful in achieving it. For example, if the goal is to increase exercise write down each time that you complete physical activity because otherwise it will be difficult to remember what you did earlier in the month and for how long.

Now that we have discussed things to avoid when making New Year’s Resolutions, we also want to provide some tips for sticking to them. Research has identified the following ways of improving your success in sticking to a resolution.

Choose a Specific Goal
Many resolutions can be difficult to follow because they are vague. For example, a goal like “lose weight” is easier to determine success if you set a specific goal in pounds. If the resolution is to “get in shape” a specific task like be able to run a mile or do 50 pushups is a specific tangible goal. This makes it easier to determine if you are accomplishing your resolution successfully.

Limit Your Resolutions
While it may be tempting to set a long list of New Year’s resolutions, it may be easier to pick just one and focus your energies on it rather than spreading yourself too thin among a number of different objectives. Focusing on one specific goal makes keeping a resolution much more achievable.

Start With Small Steps
Taking on too much too quickly is a common reason why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. Starting an unsustainably restrictive diet or overdoing it at the gym can make it easy to derail your plans and give up. Focus on taking tiny steps that will ultimately help you reach your larger goal. Small incremental changes make it easier to stick to new habits and increase the likelihood of long-term success.

Remember That Change Is a Process
Many things that individuals try to change as part of new year’s resolutions are habits or behaviors that took years to develop. It can be demoralizing to expect an unhealthy behavior or habit change immediately over days or weeks. Be patient with yourself and understand that working toward your resolution is a process. Even if you make a misstep or two, you can restart and continue on your journey towards your resolution.

Get Support
Telling your friends, family or other loved ones about your goals can provide critical social support in helping you achieve your goals. If you have a friend that also wants to be more physically active, set up plans to be a walking or gym buddy. If you know someone that also wants to try ‘Dry January’ set up plans with them that do not include alcohol. Having someone join you in your resolution can make it easier to achieve goals. Explain what your goals are to your close friends or family and ask them to help you achieve your objectives. Better yet, enlist the help of others by joining a group that shares your goal.

Keep Working on Your Goals
After a few months many people have lost that initial spark of motivation for New Year’s resolutions. Keep your motivation alive by tracking your progress and continuing to work on your goals, even if you have setbacks. If your current approach is not working, reevaluate your strategies, and develop a new plan. Being flexible with your plan—and even your end goal—will help you be successful.

We hope these tips are helpful in setting and achieving healthier changes in your life as a way of celebrating the new year. If you have any questions or concerns about your health or your health goals, please do contact your medical providers.