10 Strategies Used by People Who Achieve Their New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions….more than half of us make them, but only 8% of us achieve them!

That’s right. 92% of us fail our resolutions for the New Year (and I have been no stranger to that list). 

But rather than scorn humanity for our apparent lack of follow-through, I wanted to learn what exactly those 8% of successes do differently? 

Here are 10 strategies they use to reach their goals – and you can too! [1]


The biggest mistake people make with their resolutions is trying to take on every single goal they can think of all at once. 

Take this common list of resolutions from those who took part in the study above:

  1.  Lose weight
  2. Get organized
  3. Spend less and save more
  4. Exercise regularly
  5. Quit smoking
  6. Enjoy life to the fullest!

Let’s assume that the person who made this list was not working on them before. So now he or she needs to find the time, energy, and willpower to get all of these things done at the same time!

Your willpower works like a muscle. It gets tired from overuse the same way that your legs get tired during a long run. You may be able to keep up the high pace for a few days, or even a few weeks, but eventually you’re going to burn out. [2]

That’s when you’re going to skip one day…then another…then another…and eventually you're going to slip right back into your old habits.

Do not feel that you need to improve all areas of you life at once. Research shows that those who are most successful have no more than 3 goals that they are working on at any one time.  [3]

So set as few as possible, and do not go over 3!


Let’s look at the list of goals above again.

Not only will it be hard to accomplish all of them given that you have a limited amount of willpower with which to work, but some of those goals actually contradict one another!

For example, when you quit smoking, your hunger that was once suppressed by cigarettes is suddenly going to come back. So now your goal of losing weight is going to be much harder.

Because it is much harder, you are going to feel more frustrated, which will increase your stress. The increased stress will make it harder to exercise, control your budget, and certainly enjoy life to the fullest.

So make sure you set goals that compliment one another.

If your goal is to exercise regularly and you want to change your diet at the same time, then allow yourself to eat a lot of healthy food that you actually enjoy. Because if you try to cut back on calories, you won't find the energy you'll need to make exercising a habit.

3. Eat Breakfast

Another huge mistake people make in trying to achieve their resolutions is skipping the most important meal of the day - breakfast. Beyond simply leading to greater health, breakfast provides your body with a chemical called glucose, which the brain uses as its "willpower fuel". [4]

Whether those who achieve their resolutions realize it or not, by eating breakfast, they were providing much needed fuel for their brain to use as willpower throughout the day. 

If you're someone who doesn't eat breakfast now, do not be intimidated. Although a healthy breakfast will provide you with more willpower, it is still better to eat something you enjoy instead of nothing. [4]

For a list of the best "willpowered" breakfast foods check out this list.

4. Work on Their Goals in the Morning

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain

Those who are able to work toward their goals, create great habits, and ultimately stick with it until the end are those who eat their frog (work on their goal) first thing in the morning - even if they aren’t morning people. 

There are several reasons why the morning works best:

1.    Your willpower is the strongest in the morning

Like I mentioned before, your willpower is like a muscle. It gets exhausted as you use it throughout the course of the day.

Those who achieved their resolutions worked on them in the morning when they had the most willpower, not at night when they were drained.

2. You can create the right environment   

In the evening, you really have no idea what your circumstances will be. You may be tired, you may be stressed, you may want to inhale junk food, or chuck your gym bag out the window. In the morning, however, you can create an environment that will help you get your goals accomplished. 

You know that you will be tired and groggy, so what can you do to make waking up easier? To make putting on your gym shoes less intimidating? What incentives can you provide to "eat your frog" first?

Whatever it is, you can plan for it and create an environment for success beforehand. 

3. Life happens at night, not in the morning.

How many times have you been invited to a breakfast party at 6am?

How many times have you had to attend you kid's soccer game before school?

Life happens. You will have to stay late to work, you will have to go to PTA meetings after school, and your coworkers will invite you to a happy hour. These are all commitments that are tough to get out of with the simple reason, “I can’t I have to work on my goals today".

Luckily, life happens far less in the morning.

You simply will not have the same temptations to procrastinate your goals in the morning as you will in the evening. You won’t need to turn down other commitments; you just need to force your way out of bed!


Most people who set resolutions focus all of their energy on intensity. They want to make big progress, they want to get big results, and they want to make it happen NOW!

But those who achieve their resolutions don't try to get huge results through Herculean efforts in a short amount of time. They set long-term goals and focus on being incredibly consistent in achieving them.  [3]

There is no better example of this are those who set a writing goal.

The best writers are not the ones who stay up all night writing when they get a sudden burst of inspiration. The best writers are those who write every single day. [7]

Have patience in the pursuit of your resolutions. It is far better to achieve the goal after one year of small, consistent efforts. Rather than 2 weeks of intense efforts, followed by a subsequent crash.

6. Achieve Small Wins   

Let's assume that your goals for 2016 will require an entire year's worth of work to complete (they are New Year resolutions after all). If that's the case, then you will probably follow the typical script.

  1. On January 1st, you come up with your goal and get a spark of energy and excitement as you begin to think about the positive changes that are coming!
  2. So you get up early, eat healthy, resist temptations, and are a productive machine for the first week.
  3. Then you burn yourself out, feel exhausted, and get depressed by just how far you are from completing your goal.
  4. Then each trip to the gymhealthy meal, and hour of productivity seem insignificant compared to the huge goal you have for the year, so you take a break for a day.
  5. Finally, one break leads to another break....then you're right back to your old habits.

The human brain gets overwhelmed easily. When it doesn't see an easy path from point A to point B, it will motivate you to procrastinate. [5]

You can overcome this by forgetting about a huge goal for 2016, and instead focusing on achieving small wins. By focusing on small wins, your brain can see a much clearer path to achieving your goal. [6

So don't focus on learning a new language, just study for 1 hour. 

Don't focus on going on a 90-day diet, focus on eating healthy today.

Don't focus on getting a promotion, just show up early to the office this week.

With each hour, day, or week that you achieve your small wins, your confidence will continue to grow. Then you will be even more motivated to achieve the next small win, and the next one after that. 

Eventually, you will be 3, 6, 9 months in and more confident than ever that you can do this. 


It is easy to find motivation on December 31st when you are visualizing what life will be like when you accomplish your goals. You visualize your results, you visualize your progress, you visualize where you want to be, and you get excited about your plan to get there!

It is also easy to find motivation when you nearing the completion of your goal. You've accomplished a lot and you are confident that you will be able to see it through to the finish. You may even work harder as you see how close you are to the finish line!

But in order to get there, you need to get through the middle. 

You need to find motivation when the excitement has worn off, and the goal is still weeks or months away. That is when one day of progress seems completely insignificant in comparison to the higher goal, so if you don’t "feel good” then you face big temptations to procrastinate.

This is when the true achievers set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. They embrace the boredom of working toward a goal and find ways to enjoy the process for its own sake. 

So understand that you will have a letdown in the middle of the journey and find ways to motivate yourself through it. Because it will get easier.


The middle of the journey is like the 2nd Act of a great movie.

The 2nd Act is when the protagonist faces an extraordinarily hard challenge and their character is tested. They must overcome this huge level of adversity in order to achieve their happy ending in the 3rd Act.

Many people believe that the challenges they are facing in the middle of the journey will last forever. So once they hit the feeling of being tired, unmotivated, and demoralized by how far they are away from achieving their result, they give up.

Understand that these moments do not last forever. These moments are the ones that test how bad you really want something. If you can simply get through these times, taking it day-by-day, things will get easier!

You will grow more confident with each passing day and begin to feel and act more like your ideal self. With each day you will continue to prove to yourself that you can do this.

9.    Track Your Progress

We have a natural desire for self-improvement.

This stems from the days that our ancestors were living in tribes. Tribes were safe, so we wanted to ensure that we had a secure spot within it. So we began to check our own behavior and compare it against the best members of the tribe.

This gave us motivation to set higher standards for ourselves and try to live up to them. You can tap into this natural motivation by monitoring your progress. [6]

When you track how you eat this week, you'll have a natural desire to eat better next week.

When you track your miles run this week, you'll have a natural desire to run farther next week.

What gets measured gets improved. Take advantage of your inner drive to improve by tracking your progress. 

You can find tools and strategies to track your progress in this article.

10. Do Not Procrastinate

If there is one point I want you to take away from this list, it's this one. 

Procrastination is the most slippery of all slopes. Once you give yourself a break for today and tell yourself that you'll make up for it tomorrow, you set the precedent that it's okay to take days off.

So you take off another day...then another...then another.

Soon you're left feeling stressed and helpless as days of progress that you might have made are all gone. Then the next thing you know, all of your aspirations for the new year are gone as well. 

Of course, there are going to be days when you're tired, sick, or cannot work towards your goals in the way that you hoped. But on those days, you must summon the willpower to do something.

If you can't workout for an hour as you planned, cut it back to 30 or even 15 minutes! 

If you can't write 1,000 words today like you planned, just write 100! 

If you can't stick to your planned diet today, eat at least 1 healthy meal.

There is likely no rush to complete your goal. Take your time, but make sure every day you are making at least some progress. That progress, no matter how small, will add up. And eventually you will get there!


There is no secret to achieving a New Year's resolution. There is simply a long journey. And if you have the focus to keep less than 3 goals, work on them every day, and fight through the middle when they get hard and boring, eventually you will get there!

That is, of course, unless you procrastinate.


  1. Statistic Brain. (2015, December 27). http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/
  2. Baumeister, R., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., Tice, D. (1998) Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1252-265.
  3. Baumeister, R. (2004). Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications. New York: Guilford Press.
  4. Gailliot, M., Baumeister, R., DeWall, C., Maner, J., Plant, E., Tice, D., ... Schmeichel, B. (2007). Self-control Relies On Glucose As A Limited Energy Source: Willpower Is More Than A Metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 325-336.
  5. Tice, D., & Baumeister, R. (1997). Longitudinal Study of Procrastination, Performance, Stress and Health: The Costs And Benefits Of Dawdling.Psychological Science, 454-458.
  6. Duval, S., & Wicklund, R. (1972). A theory of objective self awareness. New York: Academic Press.
  7. Baumeister, R., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Press.