By Dr. Tammy Lowery Zacchilli


As we approach the end of another year, there will be a large group of people who set their New Year’s resolutions for the upcoming year. Making these resolutions seems to be a holiday tradition even if a high percentage of people do not follow through. 

For example, many people say “losing weight” is their big resolution. Yet they buy the gym membership and fail to use it. Others may want to get out of debt, travel more, or make a career change. No matter what the resolution involves, the excitement of the resolution seems to fade shortly after the new year begins. Why are these resolutions so hard to keep and what can we do to accomplish these goals?

First, I will share some reasons why it’s so hard to follow through with New Year’s resolutions. Then, I will provide a few tips for how we can be successful in completing these goals.

1. Change is hard and takes time. Changing behavior is not an easy feat especially if we have engaged in a behavior for a very long time. When we make a resolution, we might assume that we can change the behavior quickly and get discouraged if it takes longer than we planned. Also, we may find ourselves going back to old patterns of behavior when the new behaviors seem too difficult to maintain. 

2. Determining the “why.” When making New Year’s resolution, it is very important to consider “why?” What is the value of this resolution and how will reaching this goal affect you in the new year? Maybe we feel pressured to develop a resolution because our friends and family are developing their own resolutions. If we are trying to reach goals for someone else rather than ourselves, we might be more likely to fail. 

3. Some goals are too big. Some individuals fail to reach their resolutions because their goals are just too large. For example, if someone’s goal is to get out of debt but they owe more than $10,000, they may find this goal to be overwhelming. Many resolutions are broken because the goals are unrealistic. 

4. Lacking appropriate support systems. Trying to reach a goal on our own can be very challenging. If we lack a support system, it may be easy to get discouraged and just give up. 

What Can We Do To Help Us Follow Through With These Resolutions?

1. Recognize that change takes time. As previously mentioned, change is difficult and takes time. Setting a realistic timeline for achieving goals, including New Year’s resolutions, will help make the process less stressful and will help the goal become more attainable. 

2. Identify what motivates you and reinforce behaviors that help you reach your goals. There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards while intrinsic motivation stems from personal needs. Intrinsic motivation leads to longer lasting change. Once you identify what motivates you, you can reinforce behaviors that help you reach your goals.

3. Set attainable goals. Take a step back and evaluate the resolution that you have chosen. Is this goal attainable? Are there subgoals that you could develop that would help you reach the goal? Subgoals can be very valuable in helping individuals reach goals because you can tackle them one step at a time. 

4. Seek out support. Find a family member or friend who can be supportive during the process. This person can keep you accountable and perhaps you can do the same for them. Social support is beneficial in all areas of life so find that support person to help you reach your goals!

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and new year! Best of luck with your New Year’s resolutions.

Dr. Tammy Lowery Zacchilli is a professor of psychology at Saint Leo University and teaches the popular course, Psychology of Parenting. She is the Southeastern Regional Vice President of Psi Chi and associate editor of the Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research. Zacchilli earned her bachelor’s degree from Kennesaw State University; her master’s from Augusta State University; and her PhD from Texas Tech.