How to Make Good New Year's Resolutions
By Barbara Koltuska-Haskin, Ph.D.

Key points

  • Self-efficacy is one of the predictors of a positive outcome.
  • Prioritize and write down your goals.
  • It is okay to get professional help when you have difficulty formulating and/or achieving your goals.

Most of us make some kind of New Year's resolutions. However, we are not always able to follow through on them. When working on the subject of this post, I was quite surprised when I found out that actually there are some research studies on the subject of New Year's resolutions. The newest study (Oscarsson, M. et al. 2020) found out that after a one-year follow-up, 55 percent of the subjects were successful, which means that 45 percent were not. The participants with approach-oriented goals were significantly more successful than those with avoidance-oriented goals. The most popular categories of resolutions of the subjects were: physical health (33 percent), weight loss (20 percent), eating (13 percent), self-improvement (9 percent), mental health and sleep (5 percent), work and studies (4 percent), tobacco (3 percent), consumption, personal finances, drinking, friends and family, home improvement (all of them 2 percent) and hobbies, engagement, love (all 1 percent).

The other study (Norcross, J.C. et al. 2002) indicates that the predictors of positive outcomes were self-efficacy (generally speaking, it is a belief in our ability to succeed), skills to change, and readiness to change. Also, the successful subjects employed more cognitive-behavioral processes, less self-blame and wishful thinking. So how to make a good New Year's resolutions?

Start with a gratitude

It may be easier to formulate new goals for this year if you start with gratitude. Find a quiet moment in your day and reflect on what you are grateful for this year. It was a very difficult year and if you are alive and healthy, it already is a huge accomplishment.

Less is better

Do not write a lot of goals because it will be difficult to work on all of them. Try just five to seven goals. Be specific and realistic in formulating your goals and think about what you need to do to accomplish them. It is also important to put an approximate time frame on them and stay focused.


Not all of our goals are equally important. This year you may be concentrating on improving your health or your family relationships or reaching your financial or educational goals. Take a moment to put them in an order.

Write down your goals

Write down your goals and put them in a place where you will easily find your notes if you need a reminder or you need to revise them. Life gets unpredictable sometimes and it is okay to revise your goals.

Get some support

The research says that getting support is important. If you can share your goals with family and friends, it will help you in the long run. Your friends and family may become a motivational factor in reaching your goals.

Do not play a self-blame game

If you slip off your road to achieve your goals, try to get back. Setbacks are normal. Life gets unpredictable sometimes and not everything is always in our hands. The research says that 53 percent of the successful group experienced at least one slip. Try to have a cognitive, not emotional approach to your setbacks. Find out what went wrong and correct it. Think about the award and reward yourself when you reach your goals. And do not forget to be good to yourself as a general goal.

It is okay to get professional help

If you have difficulty formulating your goals and/or achieving them, it is okay to find a counselor, therapist, or life coach and ask for help. The above described difficulties are perfectly good reasons to get some help. There is no shame in asking for professional help when you have difficulties. Even in these quite difficult times, you can always find a professional who takes new patients. Most therapists do telemedicine now and it does not really matter where your therapist practices if she is licensed in your state of residence and is contracted with your health insurance company.

Good luck with your New Year's resolutions!


Barbara Koltuska-Haskin, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist in private practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico with over 30 years of clinical experience, and the author of How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy. Her book has won 6 awards.


This article was originally published on Pyschology Today. Copyright by Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin.

Oscarsson, al. 2020. A large-scale experiment on New Year's resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PloSOne 2020:15(12):e0234097
Norcross, J.C. et al. 2002.Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers. J Clin Psych. 2002 Apr;58(4):397-405.


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