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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sarah Penney, ND, MSc

5 Tips To Help You Stick With Your New Year's Resolutions

New Year's resolutions – did you make any? While many nay-sayers claim that they don’t work and are a waste of time, setting goals throughout your life is an important part of keeping focus and shaping your dreams whether it is Jan 1st or not. The issue is that research on New Year's resolutions specifically suggests that 77% of people can keep their resolutions for 1 week, while only 19% succeed in making a permanent change 2 years later (1). So what can you do to get past this first week in January and stick to your goals for the long-term? Whether you have pledged to lose 10 lbs, quit smoking or drink less, here are some tips to help you keep the promises you made to yourself and improve your health.


1. Reward Yourself. The psychology of getting a reward starts on day 1 in our childhood, and is deeply entwined with our emotions. This has to do with a hormone in our brain called dopamine that makes us feel good when we get a reward, and helps our brain learn what to do to get that reward again. Regarding resolutions this system can be used against you or to your advantage – so choose the timing of your rewards carefully. If you always reach for chocolate when you are sad and your brain likes the sugar boost, you will start associating chocolate with uplifting emotions and reach for it more often. This is a common pattern started by parents to soothe children when they are upset, but can clearly be a slippery slope. Try using this system another way and reward yourself when you do something good, like if you met your activity goals or drank your 2L of water in the day or whatever your goal is. Be careful not to focus your rewards around food, especially if you are aiming for weight management goals. Some other suggestions are putting a gold star on your calendar, treating yourself to a new nail polish or watching your favorite show on Netflix. Choose something that’s a treat for you.


2. Don’t Throw The Baby Out With the Bathwater.

Are you reading this article because you are already slipping away from your resolutions? This is the most common mistake I see in practice when people try to make changes – they slip up once and fall all the way back down the hill. The trick is to learn from your mistakes, leave them in the past and MOVE FORWARD! It is OKAY if you had a stressful day and stopped to get McDonalds on the way home in a moment of weakness because that is what you have been doing for years. Learning about your triggers and figuring out how to deal with them next time is a big part of making long-term changes. Don’t beat yourself up about it, just acknowledge your momentary failure and get back on track. In the long term, trying again will do you a lot more good than kyboshing the whole plan because of one mistake. The 19% of people who made it to 2 years I mentioned earlier had an average of 14 slip-ups in that time! And even if you end up eating only half of the McDonalds you did before, you are still doing yourself a big favor.


3. Be Accountable To Someone. Having a friend, co-worker or family member who is willing to make a change with you can be helpful for some, even if it is a different goal. If you are making a change alone, designate someone to check in with on a daily or regular basis about your progress who will help hold you to your commitments. Having this accountability of someone else ‘depending on’ or at least waiting to hear about your achievements might help stop you from slipping up in a moment of weakness. As a naturopathic doctor I help patients make changes all the time, and do lots of ‘accountability visits’ this time of year. I like to review the patient’s successes and mistakes non-judgmentally, and help them troubleshoot ways to get through any hard times coming up or avoid repeated failures.


4. Use Visible Reminders. The more you are reminded of your goal, the more likely you are to stick to it. Make a diagram with your goal in the middle or list the REASONS that motivate you to make a change such as your health, an upcoming event, a family member exc. Another great idea is putting pictures or notes to yourself in your bathroom cupboard so that you see them at the end of every day and first thing in the morning. The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ certainly holds true, so try the opposite!


5. Be Realistic. Think twice about pledging to going to the gym EVERY DAY for the rest of the year if you have not gone since high school. And don’t resolve to eat only baby tomatoes every other day or make extreme changes of the like – choosing unrealistic goals can set you up for failure because they are by and large unattainable. Set a goal that you know you can accomplish, even if it is a small first step towards a bigger goal you are not ready for right now.

- Dr. Sarah Penney, ND, MSc


1. Norcross, J.C., Vangerelli, D.J. The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. J Subst Abuse. 1989;1(2):127-34

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