How to Make a New Year's Resolution You Can Keep

Want to stop yelling at your kids? Ready to start having dinner as a family? Need to find a way to rebuild your relationship with your son or daughter? Desperate to change the tone in your house from sniping and snotty to laughing and loving?

January is a great time for families to reflect on, appreciate, and evolve their lives together.

Unfortunately, studies show that while most Americans make New Year’s Resolutions, the majority abandon them in frustration and self-disgust within a few weeks. Why?

Because the resolutions were too vague, or too overwhelming, or we didn’t have a plan, or we didn’t revise our plan to accommodate reality when we hit a wall. Or maybe we never really committed ourselves, so our resolution couldn’t grow roots, much less flower.

But the biggest reason is that habits are hard to break, and resolutions by themselves are a wish without a plan. Resolve by itself is a great beginning, but it’s only the first step of the journey.

There are a few lucky folks who actually make their New Year’s resolutions come true, however. What can we learn from them?

1. Prioritize. You can’t get more fit, stop yelling at your kids, and get a promotion at work all at once. However, if you do one of these things, it gives you confidence to tackle the others. It’s fine to dream big. Set one manageable goal, and then make a list of “next goals” to cultivate in turn after you’ve mastered your first resolution. But put that longer list away for at least a month, and more likely three.

2. Commit yourself – on paper. Once we set an intention, the universe lines up to support us. We marshal resources we never even suspected we had available, from both inside and out. Hone your desire: Why do you want this goal? What will be different in your life once you achieve it? Describe what your life will look like, to whet your appetite. Fierce desire + Intention = the seed of your Resolution. Without that seed, nothing grows.

3. Make a plan. The only way anyone ever met a big goal was by breaking it into little pieces and accomplishing one day at a time. How will you support yourself to accomplish your resolution? What will you actually do, day by day, to achieve your goal? Write it all down, day by day. Assign yourself a (reasonable) task for each day, with one day every week free for catch-up or time off. (It might be the same task every day; for instance, “Get up ten minutes earlier than usual to sit in silence.”)Put your your daily small goals or tasks on your calendar. Make a chart to check off your daily progress, and put it up in a public place. Every day you stick to your plan, you’re growing roots.

4. Make it a habit. Most resolutions go wrong because they aren’t sustained for long enough to change a habit. Habits need to be repeated at least once daily (preferably at the same time each day) for 30 days to become entrenched. Check in every day and take a positive action towards your goal. Think of this as watering your Resolution. Don’t lose heart if your Resolution isn’t flowering during the first month. You should be able to see those shoots poking up, and maybe some buds forming. In other words, progress in the right direction.

5. Take it one day at a time.
If change were easy, you’d already be doing it. So naturally it’s hard to imagine that change lasting forever, or even for a year. But you can do anything for an hour, or an afternoon. From there, it isn’t such a big stretch to go a whole day. Before you know it, you’ve clocked a week of your new life, and then a month. What about those days when you blow it? Plan now — of course those days will happen! If you learn from it, it’s not a total loss. What can you do next time so you keep to your resolution? Use those times you fall short of your goal to make a plan for the future, now.

6. Review and Revise. Check your plan every single day. Give yourself lavish positive reinforcement for every day you take a step forward – which should be almost every day. Cheer when you see the first flowers. Not working? Maybe you need some sunshine. Find whatever support you need to help you make your plan a reality. Or some fertilizer; revise your plan as necessary. For instance, take smaller steps every day, so you can actually make some daily progress. Don’t be afraid to lengthen your timetable. Even two steps forward, one step back will get you where you’re going. Any goal worth achieving will take longer than you thought. Sometimes the impossible just takes a little longer.

Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and has worked as a parenting coach with countless parents across the English-speaking world, both in person and via phone. You can find Dr. Laura online at, the website of Aha! Moments for parents of kids from birth through the teen years, where she offers a free daily inspiration email to parents.