How to Write New Years’ Resolutions That Actually Stick

It’s that time again–the start of a new year. January is a great opportunity to reflect on on your last year, understand your priorities, and set goals to keep improving.

If you’re not careful, though, it’s really easy to come up with a bunch of goals and then not be able to follow through with some–or even all–of them. To help you come up with better goals that you can actually achieve, I wanted to share a few tips I’ve come up with over the years.

Pick Some Goals You Don’t Share With Anyone Else

There’s a big culture, at least in the United States, of sharing your New Years’ resolutions with friends and family, but this can actually be detrimental to your ability to accomplish them. The simple act of sharing a goal can make you feel some sense of accomplishment, making you feel like you’ve already made steps toward your goal.

If you write down your goals and do not share them with anybody, then the gap between where you are and where you want to be is quite apparent, motivating you to take action, but as soon as you tell someone, that gap shrinks.

You should only share goals publicly that you know are easily achievable. Reach goals that are going to take a lot more hard work are best kept to yourself if you want to maximize your probability of success.

[Don’t be these people! At least not with ALL your goals]

Write SMART Goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound. The acronym originated from companies who were attempting to help their employees write quarterly or annual goals for development, but the idea can apply to any type of goal, not just one at the office.

A SMART goal achieves each of the five features mentioned above, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.

Let’s say you start with the generic goal “I’d like to eat healthier this year”. This is a good goal, but it’s not yet SMART. It’s somewhat vague, and doesn’t clarify exactly what “healthier” means or how much healthier you are planning on being, or how that is going to be achieved. By making some small adjustments, we can turn this into a better, more achievable goal.

S: Specific

A goal that is specific should answer the following questions.

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What steps do I need to get there?

To make “I’d like to eat healthier this year” into a specific goal, you might define what healthy means to you. It might mean reducing the amount of red meat you eat. Or, it could mean cooking more meals at home. Or it could mean eating multiple servings of fruits/vegetables each day. You can decide which direction to go, but you should be as specific as possible and include a clear explanation of how you will get there. For the purposes of this example, we’ll go with the last option and set our goal as: “I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat.”

M: Measurable

It’s important to be able to make your goals quantifiable so that you can track your progress. If you just say “I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat,” then there’s a whole lot of variation that’s possible. How many more fruits/vegetables? How often? Is this something you do every day?

You can make your goal measurable by adding some sort of number to it that you can track, often on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. For example, we can improve “”I will increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat” by changing it to “I will eat a minimum 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every week.” That way, each week you can check off the servings as you eat them and know whether you are on track for eating your goals.

[Make sure every goal you have can have its progress measured in some way]

A: Achievable

When setting your goal, you need to really take some time to think about what you can actually achieve in the real world, and not in the perfect world. Ideally, we would all love vegetables, have a ton of time to cook at home, and be healthy as can be, but that’s just not realistic. You need to make sure to set your goals around your lifestyle and abilities. For example, if you work a job where you have to bring a lunch that sits out in the sun, it might not really be reasonable to bring fresh fruit or vegetables, so you can’t expect to get any servings of those during lunch on weekdays. You might also have limited access to quality fruits and vegetables due to cost reasons. If you can only afford 3 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the rest has to be frozen, that is totally okay! Just make sure your goal is not that you’ll eat 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.

When setting a goal that’s achievable, you should make sure that it is a challenge–meaning you will not just coast to the finish, and you’ll have to work for it–but also that it’s not completely beyond your means.

R: Relevant

Relevance is about why you’re setting this goal. Thinking about this can help give you motivation to push through when things are difficult.

Why is getting healthy important to you? Is it so you can go on more adventures and experience new things? So you can keep up with your kids? So you can spend less money on doctor’s bills? So you can live a longer life?

Make sure you understand why you are setting your goals and have a meaningful reason for each one. If you aren’t internally motivated by something, it’s going to be really hard to care about achieving them.

T: Time Bound

It’s helpful to set some sort of time limit on when your goal has been reached. Sometimes, if you try to set a goal for too long a period of time, it can be easy to fall behind and then just give up. For example, saying that you’ll eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every week for an entire year is a long time to commit to something. If it’s only week six and you already fail, it can feel like you just have no hope to finish! Instead, try to pick something that’s more manageable. For example, the next month/four weeks. Then, once you’ve made it through one month, you can set a similar goal for the next month, or change it based on what felt like it was possible in the month before! For example, if you find that eating 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables was super easy your first month, and you averaged 8 per week, you might really challenge yourself for a second month and set a goal of 10 servings per week.

[Consider writing the start and end date of your smaller goal sections on a calendar to keep you motivated to get there!]

Setting goals can be hard, and can feel especially overwhelming at the start of the new year when you hear about all these huge goals people have and wonder “how the heck am I ever going to come even close to that??” If you just focus on these principles, though, ignoring everyone else and just thinking about yourself, you’ll be set with some goals you can actually accomplish, and you’ll be a badass in no time!

How Walking Every Day Changed My Life

Back in the early days of my fitness journey I used to think exercise was about going all out. If I didn’t feel sore for days or need to nap immediately after my workout, then I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was very, very wrong.

It turns out that walking–pretty much the least intense exercise there is–is actually one of the best, and if you keep up with it regularly, it can have huge benefits for your well being.

I discovered walking (as a regular form of exercise/activity) a little over a year ago after my college sent me home at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands and needed a way to fill it. Rather than spend my whole day looking at screens I decided I’d take an hour each day to walk around my neighborhood.

[Walking, unlike hiking, can be done anywhere! You don’t need to go to the woods. Just take a walk around the block or through the downtown of wherever you live. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to it––one of the easiest forms of exercise to start doing!]

I kept up with the habit pretty much every day that summer––even in the scorching 90/100+ degree heat of my home town––and loved it so much that I haven’t stopped since.

What was so amazing about it? So many things!

  • It was a great exercise option when struggling with anxiety and depression. One of the biggest hurdles for me in exercise historically has been getting myself to the gym when I’m feeling down and once I’m there, convincing myself to try hard enough to actually make progress. With walking, there was nothing stopping me. Even when depressed, it took so little effort to just stand up and start moving slowly that I could keep up a much more regular schedule of physical activity.
  • It drastically reduced my stress levels. Something about the repetitive motion of walking is very soothing to me. Every time I went on a walk and got a breath of fresh air, I instantly felt better.

[If you feel like this all the time, walking might be for you]
  • Walking improved my creativity. When not actively thinking about how I was exercising, like I always do with more intense sports (e.g. “how do I lift as much weight as possible”, “how do I climb this rock wall most efficiently”, etc.), I had time to just sit with my thoughts. I found myself coming up with ideas for my homework assignments or fun side projects way more often than when I wasn’t walking.
  • Walking gave me an opportunity to learn simultaneously! Because walking is very calm, it affords the opportunity for multitasking and directing part of your attention elsewhere. I chose to use my walking time to listen to podcasts, and that extra hour a day of information taught me so many new things and exposed me to new ideas and new people I would not otherwise have known about.
  • Walking made me happy. I always felt a mood boost after my walk!
  • Walking energized me! I always felt more awake after my walks, particularly if I did them in the morning.
  • Walking helped me manage my weight and feel good about myself. This is a weird idea at first since walking is not very calorie intensive, but if you do it regularly, it’s actually an amazing way to maintain or lose weight. In the pandemic, stress-related overeating has become more of a problem, and walking helped make sure that it didn’t negatively affect my health.
  • Walking is incredibly safe. Unlike more intense sports, there’s close to zero risk of injury.

It can be hard sometimes to try and fit walking into your busy schedule, particularly because it feels so inefficient. Why walk for an hour when you could run for 20 minutes and burn the same amount of calories? Well in my experience, I think that it’s absolutely worthwhile, both for your mental and physical health.

Walking can change your life! It sure changed mine.

Stay tuned for tips on ways to fit 10,000 steps into your daily routine! It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely worth it to spend the time to figure out a way that works for you!

What do you think about walking? Is it something you do regularly? What benefits have you found? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments!