The most popular resolutions are things like “eat better,” “exercise more” or “spend less.” Unfortunately, more than half of people fail to achieve their New Year's resolutions, and a full third have quit trying by the end of January.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions hoping to improve their life in the coming year. The most popular resolutions are things like “eat better,” “exercise more” or “spend less.” Unfortunately, more than half of people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolutions, and a full third have quit trying by the end of January.

Maybe you failed to keep a past resolution simply because it was the wrong one for you. It can be tempting to create a resolution based on what someone else, or even society, wants you to change. It’s also easy to make resolutions that are too vague such as “lose weight,” “find a better job” or “get in shape,” but without an action plan, how will you achieve these goals? Often, we fail to be realistic. Losing 20 pounds in a month or committing to a two-hour daily workout is doomed to fail. Sometimes our resolutions are too overwhelming. 

Needing to lose a lot of weight or pay off a large debt can seem so unachievable that we never even start. 

This year, set aside a few minutes to really think about changes you want to make for the next year. Once you have an idea, set a SMART goal and your chances of succeeding will significantly increase. 

A SMART goal is:

Specific.  Make an absolutely clear and concrete goal. If your goal is to lose weight, how much are you going to lose? In what time period?

Measurable. To know if you are making headway, you need to be able to track your progress. With weight loss, this is easy — step on the scale or take body measurements. With other resolutions, such as “stop biting nails,” progress might be vaguer. Try taking pictures, keeping a journal, using an app or jotting down notes in your phone to show progress. 

Achievable. If you take too big of a step too quickly, you’ll likely become frustrated and want to give up. For example, deciding to drastically cut calories and hit the gym every day is a lot to take on at one time. Start with small goals that you know you can tackle. No goal should take over your whole life. 

Relevant. Does your resolution really matter to you? If your goal is based on self-hate, remorse, pleasing someone else or just a fleeting passion, your efforts won’t last long.

Time-based. Give yourself a realistic time to complete your goal. 

Allow time for setbacks, and focus on small goals along the way to your ultimate goal. 

Keep in mind that multiple changes put multiple demands on your limited willpower, so if you can make one or two small changes at a time, you’ll be more likely to succeed. 

Here are some more tips to help your New Year’s resolution stick this year:

Decide on a daily action for change. For example, take a walk at lunchtime, eat one piece of fruit every day, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go to bed a half hour earlier, don’t eat after 7 p.m., or limit TV and social media time to no more than two hours a day. Making a simple daily commitment goes a long way towards meeting your end goal.

Write it down. Putting pen to paper solidifies your commitment. Keep your goal where you will see it so you are reminded often. This simple step will greatly increase your odds of success.

Find a partner. Friends and family can help provide support and keep you focused on your goal. Finding someone to exercise or even compete with will keep you both more motivated.

Break your ultimate goal into smaller checkpoints. For example, if you have a 12-month goal, also set one-month or three-month goals.

Allow yourself failures. Minor missteps happen to all of us. The important thing is not to lose sight of your end goal. Start back on the right track as soon as you can.

Think about rewards. Congratulate yourself for meeting those small goals. You might allow yourself to watch your favorite Netflix show only on days that you worked out or wait until you’ve lost 10 pounds to buy a new outfit.

Commit for 21 days. It takes this long to develop a new habit.

 If you put your mind to it, you can do anything for just 21 days. After that, it will be much easier to continue because it will be a habit. 

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach.