• Tired of failed New Year’s resolutions? Here’s how to help them succeed

    January 3, 2017 | curtrosengren
  • change

    How do you typically pursue your New Year’s resolutions? Do you flip the switch of change and resolve to grit it out? If that’s your approach, you’re sabotaging your resolutions’ potential to spark change that lasts.

    Change that sticks doesn’t tend to be a flip-of-the-switch affair. And it has a much higher chance of becoming the new norm when there is a support system in place to reinforce it.

    That support system can have both external and internal components.

    External support


    One of the best ways to support a change is by bringing other people into the mix. When you’re alone in your head with your commitment to something new, it can be all too easy to just let it slide when you don’t feel like sticking with it.

    Bringing others into the picture – even just publicly committing to your resolution, maybe in person to friends or even just online via Facebook – can introduce both accountability and encouragement into the mix.

    It might also be a more involved approach, like teaming up with a friend for mutual resolution reinforcement. If you have a competitive streak, you could make a bet as to who can keep the resolution going (though careful with that one – getting too rigid about seeing a lapse as failure is a great way to sabotage your resolution).


    Tracking your progress can reinforce your commitment. When you see your success unfolding, there’s more motivation to continue that success (there is also motivation to not see a lapse). This could be something as simple as sticking a star (or other appealing sticker) on a calendar where you will see it frequently.

    Daily focus & review

    Make it a habit of intentionally bringing your focus back to the resolution on a daily basis. Do a daily review. How did you do? What helped you keep the resolution? If you slipped, what led to that slip? What can you do differently tomorrow?


    Build a set of rewards into the system. This could be daily (when I _____, then I get to ____), weekly, or monthly. Or all of the above.

    Clear the slippery slope

    Don’t make it any harder on yourself than you have to. If there is something that leads to the action or behavior you’re trying to change, change that too. If you want to stop eating so much junk food, but your autopilot habit is to come home and plop down in front of the TV with a bag of chips, change the autopilot.

    Do something else. Make it a habit to go for a walk when you first get home with a friend or family member. Sit down and meditate. Put some music on and dance. Change the pattern. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it a positive alternative to your habitual slippery slope.

    Internal support

    Regularly reinforce the meaning

    One of the reasons it’s so easy to let a resolution slide is because it’s too one-dimensional. “I want to lose X pounds,” or, “I want to stop smoking” really doesn’t tap into anything meaningful in our minds. There’s nothing juicy there to counter the inevitable temptation to let it slide.

    For a stickier resolution, get clear about its meaning, and reinforce that regularly. “I want to lose X pounds because then I will feel healthier, I will have more energy, I will be more able to enjoy the fun active things I like doing, and I will feel less self-conscious” is a much more compelling reward than losing the weight itself.

    Once you have identified that meaning, revisit it regularly. Write it down on a card and stick it on your mirror. Review it when you get up in the morning, and when you go to bed. Put it in your wallet where you will see it throughout the day.

    Celebrate progress

    A great way to reinforce the resolution is to celebrate your progress. Think of how you would celebrate a friend’s progress – compliments, pointing out how good she has been at sticking with something, reinforcing her commitment, etc. – then do it for yourself.

    You could also set tangible rewards for reaching certain mile markers. If you love reading, after one week of not smoking, you might buy a book you’ve had your eye on. After a month, maybe you take your spouse or a friend out for dinner to celebrate. After six months, make it something even more significant.

    The point is to regularly give your brain the dopamine hits of reward as you progress.

    Take a repeated re-entry approach

    Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of a rigid black-and-white approach. Having had a front row seat in my coaching work on people’s work towards change (and been up to my eyeballs in it in my own life), I can almost guarantee that you will experience lapses. That just seems to be part of the process.

    If you take a rigid approach, then a lapse means failure. And when you have failed – well, there’s always next year.

    Instead, take a repeated re-entry approach. When you fall off track, begin again. And again. It’s really that simple.

    Learn from lapses

    While we’re on the subject of lapses, keep in mind that lapses aren’t always the enemy. In fact, they can give you precisely the insight you need in order to stick to your resolution for the long term.

    When you fall off the resolution wagon, take a step back and start asking questions. What can you learn here? What led to that lapse? What can you change (think back to the slippery slope discussion above)?

    Making a significant change is typically much more multifaceted than simply flipping a switch. Use your lapses to give you more insights that will help you stay on track.

    Practice self-compassion

    Finally, please, please, please remember to approach it all with self-compassion. Beating up on yourself for failing in your resolution is a great way to ensure that it has a snowball’s chance in hell of sticking.

    You might also explore some alternatives to New Year’s resolutions with these six alternatives to create real change.

    While you’re in change mode, if you have change in your life you would like deeper support with, I would love to explore how my coaching can help. Just drop me a line to set up a time for a free test drive.

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