The toughest part of starting anything—especially a health-promoting plan—is making that goal a top priority. After all, it’s a whole lot easier to say “yes” to all the things (e.g. an invitation to get margaritas after work or your friend’s homemade cookies) when you put other things first.
But you—and only you!—are in charge of your choices—and more than capable of achieving a realistic New Year’s resolution. Just start here.
Setting SMART New Year’s goals
Can you guess why so many resolutions fail? “People initially set their goals too high or don’t take the time to plan how they will accomplish their resolutions,” says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, a cognitive behavioral therapist and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Given that many people expect too much in too little time, Rego suggests trying the SMART theory for planning a successful resolution—or any other kind of behavioral change. It goes like this:
- S-Specific: Decide exactly what you are going to do, when you will you it, and where. Make it clearly defined and simple.
- M-Measurable: Set up a plan for how you’ll measure your progress. What steps will you take that will demonstrate you’re moving forward? What are the milestones you’ll reach along the way?
- A-Attainable: Make it reasonable. Setting a goal to lose 50 pounds in 3 months can actually backfire because it’s unlikely to happen in any sustainable way. How about aiming to lose 5 to 8 pounds a month for X amount of months? Or set a resolution focused on behaviors—such as attending your WW Workshop every week.
- R-Rewarding: When you get enjoyment out of taking steps toward your goal and celebrate your accomplishments - no matter how small - you’ll be more likely to keep doing them.
- T-Time-limited: Set an end date. Keeping goals open ended can lead to kicking the can down the road. Instead, aim to accomplish your goal in a certain period of time (keeping high priority on it being attainable!).
With a SMART approach, coming up with a reasonable resolution is doable. And if you follow these guidelines, you have a much better chance for success.
Rego says focusing on what’s going well is a critical aspect of keeping your resolution. “Focus on the benefits of achieving your resolution versus the costs in working for it,” he suggests.
What is my New Year’s resolution?
Your New Year’s resolution should depend on your personal priorities. What could you focus on that would have a positive impact on you? Perhaps it’s your health, your relationships, how you manage your time, or your finances. Don’t know where to begin? Ask yourself the following: Do any of the activities you do, people you interact with, social media accounts you follow, or foods you eat make you feel badly about yourself, trigger shame, or make you feel isolated? If so, those are some great contenders for your things-to-adjust list.
When considering your resolution, there’s no reason to focus on elimination. Instead, think about what you can add or do more frequently: For instance, if you’d like to lose weight, you can focus on upping your fruits and veggies s rather than swearing off entire food groups.
Once you know which changes you want to make, check that list with scrutiny and look for buzzwords like, “cut out,” “eliminate,” and “eat less” or blanket statements, like “eat healthier.” These are all code for overly restrictive or broad terms that simply won’t work for you long-term because they’re too limiting or not specific enough to be actionable.
Achievable goals tend to be grounded in micro-actions that you can take right now—simple baby steps that keep you motivated to keep trying, while specificity can help you stay in the driver’s seat when it comes to building healthier habits within your current lifestyle.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
The 20 best New Year’s resolution ideas
Use these thought-starters to set SMART resolutions.
1. Get more physically active.
Make it happen by entering it into your schedule, e.g. “I’m going to increase my exercise routine from three days per week to four days per week by adding a 20 minute strength training session on Fridays this month.”
2. Meet new people.
The term “networking” can be daunting. Think about how you might break this down into something more bite-sized, like, “Attend my local alumni networking event once per month this year.”
3. Read more often.
While this one might grace the top of your to-do list, it rarely gets checked off. If this is your resolution, plan a time each day when you can spend spend 10 minutes reading for fun in January. Keep track! Then, reassess that time allotment in February by asking yourself, “How often have I missed a 10-minute block?” or, “Do I want to make more time in my schedule to read?”
4. Take time during the workday for yourself.
Try blocking a lunch hour on your calendar every day for the next month. Planning ahead is a simple step that provides accountability and keeps conflicting meetings off your schedule. While you might have to shift the time slot, you can approach each day knowing there’s a block of time reserved for you.
5. Save more money.
Start with mini budgeting goals. For example, if you’d like to work up to saving $50/week, start by saving $5/day on coffee and selected food items by making them at home. After a few weeks, prep a larger percent of your lunch to save even more.
6. Donate to organizations you care about.
It doesn’t have to be money: Think of the small, actionable ways you can contribute to any greater cause, like clearing out your closet and donating the items that no longer fit.
7. Make more free time.
If you can, try setting your phone alarm to leave work at a specific time. If that’s not viable, can you leave 10 minutes earlier than you did last week? What about 5 minutes today, and five minutes tomorrow (and so on)? Progress (not perfection!) is what counts when it comes to working toward your goals, so start small and give yourself permission to mess up. Work emergencies happen, but you can always try again tomorrow.
8. Get back on your regular workout schedule.
If you’re looking to resume a practice you previously loved, determine a realistic frequency and timing to take it back up. For example, commit to attending a post-work yoga class twice per week. (Pre-purchasing classes can help motivate you to make it happen.)
9. Get up earlier.
Starting with a manageable goal—like waking up 10 minutes earlier—is way easier than waking up one hour earlier. Every other month, reset your alarm for 10 minutes earlier and you’ll gain a whole 60 minutes per morning by the end of 2020—that’s an entirely new lifestyle!
10. Refine your bedtime routine.
Setting boundaries can help you focus more on the activities you really want to prioritize—including sleep. If you’re cleaning in the kitchen, checking emails from your couch, or starting any project within an hour of your bedtime, it may keep you up later than intended. Try implementing a new routine that includes wind-down time in the hour before you go to bed—even if you need to break it down into baby steps with 10 minute increments. Want to take it a step further? Keep screen time and distracting devices out of the bedroom.
11. Go to bed earlier.
If your goal is to get to sleep earlier, start by determining how much earlier and how often you’ll practice this routine. Start with 5 to 10 minutes—a phone alarm can help you by setting cues—and build up from there.
12. Eat more vegetables.
“More vegetables, more often” can be your mantra for 2020. But to make that more specific: Try, “Add one new veggie to dinner meals I make at home this month,” which can have you experimenting with new recipes, flavors, and ZeroPoint™ foods you’ll love to cook and eat before you know it.
13. Get outside more.
Instead of approaching outdoor activity as an imposition to an already packed schedule, reframe it as a break to help you relax, reset, and check any items off your list that can be done on the go, like returning a friend’s phone call. If a 15-minute walk feels like too much, start with an amount that feels manageable to you to achieve every day. Then pop it on your calendar.
14. Spend less time on social media.
If you lose hours to scrolling through cute puppy videos or fitfluencers’ feats on Instagram, and surfacing feeling distracted—or worse, down—it can’t hurt to be more mindful. To make your goal specific, try setting a timer to control the amount of time you devote to swiping or pinning each day. This way, you can channel the endless, aimless time-suck of social media into a more focused sprint, then turn your attention to the other things you’d like to accomplish.
15. Pack your lunch..
Want to eat healthier? Packing your lunch is a good place to start. You can ease the burden by doubling up on the veggies you prep at dinnertime two or three times a week, then bring leftovers to work.
16. Eat regular meals and snacks.
Stashing a piece of produce in your purse can go a long way when you’re stuck waiting in line at the DMV or in traffic on your way home from work: A healthy snack can keep you from feeling ravenous—and potentially overeating—at your next meal. For specificity, make it your goal to pack at least one apple, pear, or bag of carrots in your bag every day so you can snack when you’re in transit.
17. Drink more water.
Drinking water has a myriad of benefits, but one of the unsung ones is that it forces you to get up and move periodically throughout the day. Hydrate (or at least find your way to the water cooler) every hour to get moving more often
18. Plan (and go on!) a summer trip.
In cold climates, having something to look forward to when winter’s over can help you feel better in the moment. Block an hour every weekend to look at travel destinations. Each week, you can narrow down your list and start exploring availability.
19. Limit your weekly “work drinks.”
If grabbing drinks after work with coworkers for the purpose of networking interferes with your desire to drink less, consider multi-tasking: Scheduling a walk or exercise class with a colleague can help you clock extra activity and leave you feeling revived rather than depleted. Plan ahead to make sure these new networking events make it to your calendar as often as work drinks used to surface.
20. Cut back on excess spending.
Much like tracking your meals and snacks, your spending habits can go awry if you don’t pay attention to where the dollars go. Start small by making a grocery shopping list before heading out to the supermarket. It’ll help you to be more mindful of where you can purchase a more affordable option, but it’ll also help you stay on top of this one type of spending at one specific location, rather than attempting to blindly “cut back” overall.
Tips for keeping your resolution
Have you identified your resolution? Great! Now it’s time to share it with the people who can help you stay on track. If you let your friends and family in on your dream, you can use their support to help you make it a reality.
- Write down your resolution. But don't stop there: Also include the steps you will take to keep it. Having a clearly articulated goal and a plan of action is vital for success, according to Laura Hess, a Nevada-based personal and business coach.
- Keep things simple. Break a big goal into a series of smaller goals. Want to lose 50 pounds? Shoot for losing 5 percent of your body weight first, or set five 10-pound incremental weight loss goals.
- Mark your achievements. Each time you make a small lifestyle change aimed at reaching your goal—adding five minutes to your daily walk, for instance—put a star on your calendar so you can see your progress.
- Start with small changes. If weight loss or a healthier lifestyle is your goal, begin with a simple step like swapping one snack per day for a piece of fruit. The benefits will add up without majorly impacting on your lifestyle.
- Tap the power of a streak. Let’s say you keep your resolution for a week, or two weeks, or a month. That’s a terrific streak and you can let it drive you (“I really want to do X, but I’m not breaking my streak.”) And if something happens to force you to break it? Start a new streak!
Better living starts now
Now that you’re armed with the strategies to turn your resolution into a reality, why wait? There’s no rule that says you can’t start before New Year’s day. To reach your goals and set yourself up for success, define the change you plan to make and start practicing it as soon as you finish reading this article.
The upshot: What New Year’s resolution will you make?
Prioritizing your personal goals is easier said than done. But setting SMART goals can help you take charge of your personal health and wellbeing this year.
Jackie London is a registered dietitian (RD), certified dietitian nutritionist (CDN) and holds a bachelor of arts degree from Northwestern University and a master of science degree in clinical nutrition from New York University. WW’s head of nutrition and wellness, London is also the author of Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked): 11 Science-Based Ways to Eat More, Stress Less, and Feel Great About Your Body, and previously served as Good Housekeeping’s nutrition director, where she oversaw all of the brand's nutrition-related content across platforms and evaluating products for the Good Housekeeping Seal and GH Nutritionist Approved Emblem. As media spokesperson in nutrition and health, Jackie has appeared in various national media segments including Today and Good Morning America, reporting on nutrition news and trends, myth-busting diet fads, and providing tangible strategies that are rooted in science, but actionable in real life.
This article was reviewed for accuracy in July 2021 by Allison Grupski, PhD, senior director for behavior change strategies & coaching at WW. The WW Science Team is a dedicated group of experts who ensure all our solutions are rooted in the best possible research.