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Goal Prep: How to Plan Successful New Year’s Resolutions

Do you feel like you have the same resolutions every year? And do you fail the same resolutions every year? You’re not the only one: Only 8 percent of people who make resolutions actually meet their goals.

We asked Michael F. Hyek, PhD, senior director at the McConnell Heart Health Center, to answer two questions about a few popular resolutions:
1. Why do people fail?
2. How can people make the resolution more attainable?

A Closer Look at New Year’s Resolutions

Person weighing themself on scale

New Year’s Resolution: Lose Weight

Why people fail: According to Hyek, people who fail this goal are often setting unrealistic targets and expectations. “Typically, weight gain occurs gradually over time. However, when someone decides to lose weight, they expect it to come off really fast,” he explains. That’s not how it works! A second factor is that people often take on too many changes at once. “For example, the person thinks he/she needs to start exercising daily, cut out everything that tastes remotely good, avoid all sugars and carbohydrates, and generally deprive themselves,” Hyek said.

How to make it more attainable: Hyek recommends choosing one or two goals to focus on that can reasonably be accomplished in 90 days. Going “public” with your goal can also help you to stay accountable. Ask a friend, family member or group to help you stick with your goal. “Check in with the person you’ve gone public with every 30 days at a minimum,” he advises.


Variety of fruits and vegetables sitting on blue background

New Year’s Resolution: Eat Healthy

Why people fail: This resolution may be too vague for success and lacks a measurable goal, Hyek explains. What does “eat healthy” even mean?

How to make it more attainable: Get more specific and include an element that will make it easier to tell if the goal has been accomplished, Hyek advises. What does that look like? Here are two examples:
1. Eat a salad five days a week for lunch and keep track of lunch choices on a food log.
2. Eat an apple every day for an afternoon snack and include seven apples on the weekly grocery list.


Woman smiling while exercising in group class

New Year’s Resolution: Join a Gym and Work Out

Why people fail: Hyek says there are three reasons why people fail this resolution:
1. They set unrealistic goals.
2. They don’t really have a plan for what they are going to do once they join a gym.
3. They fail to get involved in a class, program or service within the gym that can create socialization and relationships that would help with accountability.

How to make it more attainable: Hyek advises joining a facility that gives you a comprehensive, personalized orientation and program when you join so you will have a reasonable plan for what you are going to do after joining. This will help to set a structure for how many days a week you are going to commit to, what type of exercise you’ll do each day, etc.


Relaxed man listening to music with headphones and eyes closed

New Year’s Resolution: Be Less Stressed

Why people fail: This is one of those resolutions that may be too ambitious, Hyek says. Those who try to “eliminate” stress as opposed to “reducing stress” may find that trying to eliminate stress is, in and of itself, stressful.

How to make it more attainable: Doing specific activities to lower, not totally eliminate, stress can help make this resolution more attainable, Hyek says. Try yoga or meditation for 10 minutes, three times per week or five minutes daily to better manage stress. Spend 15 minutes a day, twice a day, doing something fun that’s not stressful, such as reading your favorite magazine, exercising, taking a walk, listening to music, etc. “Choose a stress-reduction strategy that fits your lifestyle so that it is relatively easy to accomplish. Otherwise, the motivation to maintain the behavior may wane. For instance, planning to attend an hourlong yoga class twice a week may not fit into a hectic schedule as well as practicing deep breathing or mindfulness for 10 minutes at home or on breaks at work,” Hyek explains.


Closeup of person breaking a cigarette in half

New Year’s Resolution: Quit Smoking

Why people fail: They go it alone. “It’s hard to change behaviors — especially addictions — so not seeking support from family, friends or tobacco-cessation specialists makes it very difficult to be successful,” Hyek says. Those who think about quitting cold turkey may be underestimating the power of addiction, too. “Withdrawal from nicotine is real and works against your best intentions and plans. Nicotine replacement therapy helps quiet the brain as it goes through withdrawal, working to reduce physical cravings, and allows individuals to focus on building skills to deal with stress and other triggers that lead to smoking,” he explains.

How to make it more attainable: Be open to using a tobacco-cessation medication and/or nicotine replacement therapy, and seek out professional support — in person, by phone or through a website/app — to develop a personal quit plan, Hyek recommends. Identify your top reasons to quit, recognize your top triggers and create strategies to overcome those triggers.


Parents and child laughing together while sitting on couch

New Year’s Resolution: Spend More Time with Family

Why people fail: Sometimes there are competing demands like work-life balance, self-care, etc., that make it difficult to choose more family time over other needs. In some cases, certain family dynamics may make spending more time with family stressful, Hyek says.

How to make it more attainable: “If you struggle with work-life balance, create opportunities that will allow for quality time rather than those that are focused on the quantity of time,” he says. “Some of our fondest memories are of shared laughter with someone we love, and a hearty laugh takes only a few moments to create.” If you have difficulty carving out time for family due to stress associated with family dynamics, Hyek says to try setting limits on the time and make the time as pleasant as possible.

Learn to live a healthier life everyday this year with our top wellness tips and advice!


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