Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | January 6, 2015

New Year’s Resolutions: Can’t Keep Them? — Try These 5 Tips

Happy New Year!

It’s 2015. Five days of the new year have already passed, and I’m still wondering where 2014 went. This happens every January. The days and months of one year zip by; a new year arrives and then likewise passes in a flash.

Scientists may debate whether or not time really exists, but for most of us, time has a solid reality, and with emotions ranging from joy to dread, we measure the minutes and days and years of our lives. No matter how you quantify it, time exists, and there never seems to be enough of it. While we might occasionally prefer to speed through an unpleasant experience or difficult period, we more often wish that we could slow time or add an extra hour or two to the day to squeeze in more work or leisure or rest.

The first snow of the year, 1-6-15

The first snow of the year, 1-6-15

So we begin 2015, looking ahead with New Year’s optimism to days and months brimming with uncharted time. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, using forms ranging from formal written lists to vague mental plans that set goals we’d like to achieve in the coming year. Often these resolutions are the same year after year because, in spite of the best intentions, most resolutions fall by the wayside, discarded long before the month of January draws to a close. The tragedy of our perennial failure to keep resolutions is that we lose out on actions or accomplishments that would benefit us and bring us personal satisfaction.

Just why is it so difficult for people to keep New Year’s resolutions? While it’s tempting to claim that we are too busy with family, jobs, and daily tasks, lack of time is an inadequate reason for not exercising every day or writing the “great American novel” or accomplishing some other goal. Let’s face it — we could all find chunks of time if we made a firm commitment to achieving our resolutions and crafted resolutions that were not impossibly ambitious or too vague to give us an idea where to start.

Here are five suggestions for making and keeping good New Year’s resolutions:

1.  Only make meaningful resolutions.

Don’t make a list of resolutions because just everyone else does or because it’s the thing to do at the beginning of each new year. If your resolutions don’t have real importance to you and your heart’s not in them, you’ve set yourself up for failure before you begin. Many of us could, for example, benefit from losing some weight or exercising more; however, if these aren’t things we truly want to achieve, we won’t put in the necessary effort, so why stress ourselves by including them in a list of resolutions? Better to make no resolutions than create a list of goals we have no sincere desire to reach.

2.  Create defined, achievable resolutions.

If a resolution is too vague, it provides no starting point and no direction. Such a resolution might not last even one day of the new year. On the other hand, a resolution that is too broad or all-encompassing may be impossible to achieve. Make your resolutions specific and limited.

The process of crafting a defined, achievable resolution reminds me of the process of choosing a term paper topic. If the topic is too limited, not enough information may be available. If the topic is too broad, the paper is difficult to write because too much information must be sifted through. I learned this the hard way in high school. When some students chose topics for our five- to ten-page term paper that were so limited or obscure that they couldn’t find enough information, I decided on Mao Tse-tung because I knew the library had a lot of information about him. After reading taking notes from book after book and article after article, I organized and cut and reorganized and eventually put together a fifty-page term paper. All the hours and sweat and anxiety taught me the wisdom of limiting my topic. If I had chosen to write about a specific period of Mao Tse-tung’s life, the whole process would have met the requirements, been much easier, and taken a lot less time.

3.  Develop a series of steps or intermediate goals.

Reward inspires effort. If you divide your resolution into a series of steps or short-term objectives that you can check off as you accomplish each (or give yourself a well-earned reward!), the achievement of each step or objective provides the satisfaction and inspiration which encourage you to persevere.

4.  Limit the number of resolutions to no more than three.

This is one of those self-evident truths: one or two resolutions are a lot easier to keep than five or ten. Limiting the number of your resolutions makes achieving them more likely.

Also, remember that no rule or tradition dictates that you must begin all your resolutions on January 1. If you make two or three resolutions, improve your chances of achieving them by staggering the starting dates for each resolution. Begin working on one resolution in January and concentrate on it alone. Three months later, when the first resolution has become a part of your routine, start working on the second resolution, and three months later, the third.

5.  Put the resolutions high on your priority list.

The lack of true commitment can doom any resolution. Don’t assume you will find time for achieving your goals; carve out time for them by making them priorities in your life. You have to admit that, whatever else happens, we seem to find the time for our priorities. So, if you make your resolutions priorities, you have a much greater likelihood of achieving them.

The first snow of the year, 1-6-15

The first snow of the year, 1-6-15

In the interest of truth, I must say that I rarely make New Year’s resolutions. However, I did make one this year and I’m going to follow the above suggestions to achieve it. I’ve made one resolution, divided it into achievable steps, and put it high on my priority list. In 2014, except for posting on Author Chronicles, I fell off the social media wagon and spent little time online. The longer I stayed away from social media, the harder it became to get involved again. Online friends who are also face-to-face friends have commented that they’ve missed me online, so I’ve resolved to become active in social media again. My social media time will be after dinner, and my first objective on the path to achieving this goal is to become active on Facebook again. So far, I’m right on track. Let’s see if I can stay the course!

Have you made any resolutions for the New Year? (There’s still time.) What are your strategies for achieving them?


  1. Good post! i often make one or two resolutions, but not this year. With everything this new year has coming down the pike at me, I cannot even imagine how it will go. So my only resolution is to do the best I can with whatever comes my way!

    Also, while I agree prioritizing is the only way to achieve something, there are only so many priorities one can have–by definition, you can’t prioritize everything. So if my priorities are #1 Family, #2 Writing, #3 Exercising, #4 Eating better,#5 Reading (for example) it’s hard to shoehorn in more than that–for instance, I’ve been wanting to do MORE exercise than what I already do. And I fail miserably every year because I don’t want to DE-prioritize the other things on my list to make more time for that.

    Lots to think about in this post–and great to see you on Facebook again!


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