Dr. Matt Hersh, founder of The Thriving Therapist

Dr. Hersh is a psychotherapist, Certified Energy Psychologist, mindfulness teacher, & founder of The Thriving Therapist, a site devoted to helping the helpers. Learn more about us and check out our free resources, online courses, and workshops on self-care, work-life balance, burnout prevention, your thriving practice, & much more.

Happy New Year! Whatever the last year threw at you, you’re right here right now. Despite the pandemic or perhaps because of it, it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at how you want to live your life in the coming months. But before we dive in, let’s consider how many of those admirable resolutions have you actually kept in past years.

If the answer is a wistful, “not many” or “none” or “what do you mean kept?”, then you’re very good company. Research suggests that only 10-20% of the population actually are successful in keeping their resolutions alive and well past the first month or so of the new year.

This post addresses how to finally help your well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions to stick (around) this year.

*If you are in a helping profession, this post will hopefully serve both you and your clients well.

New Year’s Resolutions Stick with These 5 Tricks

Here are the 5 vital principles that will guide you on your resolution success journey, plus a bonus principle to help ensure the whole recipe sticks together.

1. Practice acceptance of “failures” and setbacks

Like with so many things in our lives, we will do much better to start our transformation with a healthy dose of acceptance. Not the giving up, giving in misconception of acceptance.

Rather, the coming to terms with where we currently stand and what our real barriers to change might actually be. It is often only from this stance of self-compassionate acceptance that true change can occur.

And then when we begin acting on our resolve to do something new or different in the new year, we must also come to terms with our set-backs and the blips along the way.

If we beat ourselves up too much for eating all that candy one night or for yelling at our kids one weekend, then we take the motivational wind out of our change sails. This is a sure-fire way to get derailed and then to truly give up.

So let’s follow the wisdom of the myriad of psychotherapies and change technologies out there – accept first, change second.

2. Acknowledge your history and habits that can derail well-intentioned resolutions

Even if we consciously think we’re going to do things differently this time, many of us will fall right back into those old patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Our mental, emotional, and behavioral patterning from our childhood and beyond can be quite (and subtly) influential. What has fired together has become wired together, according to the old neuroscience adage.

So, if you typically need deadlines to get your butt in gear to accomplish something, why should January 1st be terribly different than December 31st in terms of how your brain and behavior usually function?

Or if you have a long-standing pattern of emotional eating, learning how to cope with your emotions will be extremely helpful to any food- or fitness-based resolutions you make.

As you increase your awareness and self-knowledge of your patterns, you empower yourself to move forward in a more personally wise fashion to purposefully shape specific aspects of your life through a mode of enhanced mindfulness and less automaticity.

And if you are up for it, professional support can do wonders for helping to break old habits and make progress on creating the healthy life you really want to live.

3. Make explicit expressions of your aspirations and goals for the new year

When your resolutions aren’t written down or otherwise explicitly expressed, they are left to the unbounded mental activity of dreams and wishful thinking.

There is nothing better than the physical expression of our wants, needs, and dreams to get ourselves moving in the direction we truly desire.

We simply have too much competing for our attention at any given time. We are easily distracted creatures, and especially so in our contemporary culture. And to reference #2 above, we have too many habits and old patterns that might prevent us from actually doing things differently this year.

The act of writing down or otherwise outwardly expressing your resolutions is an act of explicit acknowledgement that you are indeed wanting these things for yourself. And that you truly intend to build in these new ways of living. And that these are not just fleeting thoughts, like most of our thoughts. But that these are actual changes we desire to make, and we are committing to them now.

It’s super easy, however, to only write down our aspirations and not more concrete actions we are going to take to move in those desired directions. For example, “ I really want to be more fit and healthy this year” can be written down a million times. But what does that really mean? Why do you want or need to be more fit and healthy? How will it be done?

It’s not that you have to write down every step you’ll take, but it’s certainly very helpful to spell out your action plan for a new way of eating, or exercising, or getting a better handle on stress or sleep that might be affecting your fitness and health.

4. Unpack the facets of your resolutions for optimal success

Resolutions are not some singular entity or concept. They are made up of various components that can operate synergistically. Having a clearer sense of what these facets are all about will lead to better success to bring new behaviors and lifestyle changes into your life.  So let’s talk definitions for a moment:

  • Your purpose is your deepest and most meaning-driven “why”. If your resolution is to treat yourself more compassionately, to relax more earnestly, or to create better boundaries between your work and personal life, you can begin to identify underlying reasons for these desired changes. When in doubt, keep asking yourself “why is this truly important” if you come up with a reason for a particular change you’d like to make. When you believe you can go no further, you may have hit on your true purpose and meaning for that particular resolution.

We also have to be careful though of how a less wholesome reason for change can masquerade as a true purpose. For example, “getting healthier” so that you can finally fit into that one pair of pants likely doesn’t reveal a true purpose of what that desired change is all about.

  • Values are a close cousin of purpose and are like your life compass. In what direction are you currently headed and in what directions do you desire to head? Values show up in the domains of parenting, self-care, work life, recreation, friendships, etc. To clarify your values in these domains and relate them to your particular resolutions for this year, it’s helpful to think about the qualities that you feel are important to embody and express as a parent or a friend or at work. For example, what type of helper do you really want to be and what makes that so important to you?
  • Aspirations are wishes and hopes we have for ourselves. Do you aspire to be a better friend? Do you have an aspiration to become a different type of helper or healer this year? This is not as specific and measurable as a goal, and it may not necessarily have the implication of deeper meaningfulness like with purpose and values. Although when aspirations are linked up with purpose and values, they are powerful forces of change and hope in our lives.
  • Goals are concrete, specific, and measurable targets. Because I value helping to heal other people and have an aspiration to be a healer, my goal (many years ago) was to become certified as an Energy Psychologist. However, this says nothing about how I will actually achieve that goal. That’s where committed actions come in handy.
  • Committed actions are the monthly, weekly, daily, or hourly steps we take to reach our goals that are motivated and inspired by aspirations based on our values and deeper purpose.

Actions are the actual nitty-gritty work of making the aspiration and goal come to life, every single hour, day, week, and month. If you resolve to be a more patient parent, then you need an action plan to help you get there. Will you be meditating daily? Taking a parenting course? Reading mindful and positive parenting books? Discussing your goals with your partner or other parents?

The precursor to consistent committed actions is intention. So, each day, or periodically as you move through your week, voice your intention for what and how you want to live in a new or different way. Expressing intention lets your whole being (and others around you) know what positive changes are afoot.

That takes us to our final principle.

5. Grow your resolution in a healthy environment for optimal success.

If you want to quit smoking, for example, research suggests that it may help to have a non-smoking partner at home or one who is also trying to quit.

Think about how this may work with food. If you are trying to cut down on simple sugars, having a partner who loves to keep cakes and milk chocolate in the house is likely to present a greater challenge than if “the house” is making the change together.

This principle holds for almost every resolution we think of, from parenting to food intake. Simply put, you will likely set yourself up for greater success when you make a commitment to be around healthier influences, if possible. You then don’t have to exert so much willpower to resist the usual “negative” habits, and you’ll also have healthy models of behavior for how you are trying to do things for yourself.

BONUS: Reward yourself for the small steps you take toward your resolution.

Human beings are driven by rewards and incentives of all kinds. It’s not a failing to want a pat on the back, some positive feedback from your partner, or a piece of chocolate when you’ve successfully completed an incremental step toward your larger goal.

In fact, an incentive system can be the glue to hold the whole process together as you move up and own, inside and out of your best intentions to succeed.

Smaller rewards for daily or weekly incremental steps is likely to fuel you better than waiting for a larger reward after a month of working hard on your goals.

So, figure out what incentives will work best for you personally. They can come in all sizes and forms– physical things, a nice comment from someone you love, or an experience that is meaningful to you.

So there we have it.

I wish you great success with your resolutions and your plans for how to get there.

Please leave a comment below and share with our growing community what your New Year’s resolutions are and how you plan to make them as successful as possible.

Dream big, step small, and accept all,


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