New Year’s Resolutions: Why bother, or chance for positive change?

New Year’s Resolutions: Why bother, or chance for positive change?

By Ruth Homan, Community Health Worker

The beginning of a new year prompts us to feel like it is time for a fresh start. There seems to be an innate desire to make positive changes in our lives; trying to improve ourselves physically, intellectually, or socially. According to, 74 percent of American adults reported the wish to set a personal goal or make a positive lifestyle change in 2021, a 15% increase from previous years. Oddly enough, 23 million Americans don’t believe they will achieve their New Year’s Resolutions (NYR), and 24 million Americans are indifferent, thinking their goals are possible, but aren’t confident that they will reach them. Not believing you will succeed presents a big roadblock in achieving your NYR. In fact, states that 80% of NYR fail by the second week of February. So, how can you ensure success for your NYR for 2021?

Making your resolution

First, let’s start by understanding motivation, self-efficacy, and willpower.  Motivation involves the reasons why a person does what they do. Self-efficacy is the beliefs, skills, and abilities one possesses to accomplish tasks. Willpower is one’s ability to delay instant gratification for a long-term goal.  Willpower tends to be derailed by emotion and stress, and is considered by some to be a muscle, which gets stronger the more you use it, until reaching a point that you experience fatigue and get overwhelmed by the task or goal.

At a deeper level, the unhealthy habits we engage in elicit immediate gratification and pleasure responses in the brain. The longer we engage in these bad habits, the harder we must fight to change them, i.e., the more willpower we need. This is where the motivation, or the why’s, need to be more important than the instant gratification that we get from our bad habits.  The self-efficacy of this is influenced two ways: one, having a good attitude and faith that you can achieve your goals, and two, having the proper skills to make your goals high, yet attainable. Rather than making one big goal at the beginning of the year, make smaller goals throughout the year to ultimately accomplish the bigger NYR.

Designing a SMART goal

The best way to succeed at your NYR is to make well-designed intermediate goals. The SMART goal strategy streamlines the goal setting process and sets you up for success. S stands for Specific. Simply saying “I want to lose weight” is too vague. Start with a small, yet Measurable goal, such as “I want to lose 5 pounds from today’s weight.” This is a small enough goal to be realistic and Attainable (Self-efficacy). Then, make your goal Relevant (What are your why’s, or motivation). For instance, “my blood pressure will improve if I lose 5-10 pounds,” or, “I will have more energy if I lose weight.” Next, make the goal Time-based. For instance, “I will lose 5 pounds, to a weight of ‘x’, two weeks from today.” 

After setting the SMART goal, break down how you will accomplish the goal. Some examples are:

  • I will eat 5 servings of vegetables every day.
  • I will walk 10 minutes every day at lunch.
  • I will drink 8 glasses of water per day.

Next, address situations that have caused failure or struggles in the past, such as:

  • The candy dish at work.
  • I’m too tired at night to cook healthy.

Then, what are some strategies to overcome these struggles? 

  • I will ask them to move the candy dish or I will walk around it rather than by it.
  • I will do meal prep on weekends to make evening meals easier to cook during the week.

Upon completion of your intermediate goal, then evaluate your progress toward your NYR. Did I reach my first goal? Was it realistic? If so, choose the next intermediate goal, considering the overall NYR. If you didn’t reach your intermediate goal, ask yourself why not? Did the immediate gratification of the habit overshadow my why’s of this goal? Am I doing this for myself or someone else (motivation)? Did I really believe I could do this (self-efficacy)? Did I have enough strategies to fight off the daily temptations (willpower)? Once you have assessed your struggles and successes you are ready to move on to the next stage and set your next intermediate goal in the same manner. 

For help setting and succeeding with your NYR, call your local Tri-County Health Network Community Health Worker. In January, TCHNetwork will be holding free health screenings every Thursday, and additional times are available by appointment.

To learn more and contact your community health worker, click here.

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