How to unbreak your New Year's resolutions

Pen, notepad reading 2023 goals, cup of coffee, keyboard and earbuds on a table.

Read time: 5 minutes

In Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Mrs. Potts, the housekeeper/teapot, sang about a tale as old as time. Here’s a tale that’s just as old, but in this case, it’s not about love. It’s about the making—and breaking—of New Year’s resolutions.

Don’t worry, we’re not here to scold you for any broken resolutions—it’s not like we (and the 80% of people who break their New Year’s resolutions by February) don’t have a few skeletons in the old resolution closet ourselves. Instead, we’re here to assure you that you’re not alone...and give you a little more insight into how you can make future resolutions more shatter-proof.

Top broken New Year’s resolutions

The team from Tracking Happiness, a company that publishes articles, guides and study results about happiness and mental health, did a survey of more than 14,000 people. These were the respondents’ top five most broken New Year’s resolutions of 2022: 

  1. Completely quit drinking.

  2. Do more exercise/improve fitness.

  3. Give up smoking.

  4. Lose weight.

  5. Improve one’s diet.

A lot of people make at least one or more of these five resolutions each year. They’re good resolutions, but they’re BIG resolutions, which force us to change long-ingrained habits we’ve practiced for years in just a few short days. And despite what you’ve read about taking 30 days to form a habit, a 2009 European study determined that it takes between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit—an average of 66 days.   

Sound like a recipe for failure? Not necessarily—resolution-makers do succeed, even at the big resolutions—but taking on too much change can be a shortcut to discouragement.

From broken to big win

So, given all that information about resolutions, is there even a way that you can increase your chances of emerging victorious from resolution season? Absolutely—by keeping some of the following tips in mind:

  • Be realistic—If you’re determined to exercise 90 minutes a day, seven days a week, but you work full-time, go to school and have family obligations, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Perhaps it’s more practical to start with 15-30 minutes a day, three to five times a week and work up to additional sessions over time.

  • Look inward—Resolutions don’t have to be about losing weight or cleaning the basement. This year, resolve to do one small act of kindness a day for someone else—or remember to be grateful for the good things and people in your life once a day.

  • Break your resolution (into pieces)—Large projects can feel insurmountable, so break your work into manageable goals. If you want to declutter your house, don’t try to do it all in one weekend; divide your work into smaller sessions that won’t overwhelm you. 

  • Prepare for change—Identify possible roadblocks to your progress before you start. For instance, if your resolution is to cut out sugar, make sure sugary snacks are out of the house (or at least ask a family member to put them in a less-accessible location).

  • Assemble a support system—Let a few people you trust—family, friends, coworkers—in on your resolution so they can help cheer your successes and support you or offer feedback when you need some extra encouragement.

  • Give yourself a break—No one is perfect, and no one will be harder on you than you. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip and have a cookie or can’t exercise one day. Acknowledge and enjoy your moment of indulgence…and then simply get back on track.

  • Own your victories—Celebrate each win—big or small—on the way to fulfilling your resolution. Whether it’s a family dinner out, a new book or a Sunday on the couch watching movies, recognizing your achievements will help keep you motivated.

The last couple of years have been so challenging that you can already claim victory simply by getting through it with your health and sanity intact. But if you don’t want to start a new year without a plan for change, just remember that small victories can be every bit as rewarding as the big ones, and plan accordingly. Good luck!