Learning Mandarin? Going vegan? Giving up alcohol? Many of us will start the year by making a resolution. Sometimes those resolutions stick. Often they don’t. What can you do to keep yours going?

Well, the first thing you can do is junk the widespread belief that New Year’s resolutions inevitably fail.

A 2002 study published in the Journal Of Clinical Psychology looked into how successfully people keep their New Year’s resolutions. The researchers took 159 people who made a New Year’s resolution (to lose weight, quit smoking, or exercise more) and 123 people who had similar goals but hadn’t yet made a resolution.

Six months later, 46 per cent of the ‘resolvers’ said they had been successful in achieving at least part of their goal, compared with just 4 per cent of the non-resolvers.

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So is it better to set yourself one New Year’s resolution at a time? Not necessarily. A few years ago, researchers from Stanford University took 200 inactive, overweight volunteers who were keen to lose weight and split them into three different groups.

The first group of people were put on a diet and then got exercise advice a few months later. A second group got exercise, with dietary advice some months later. A third group got both exercise and dietary advice from the start.

The researchers then tracked the progress of all three groups for a year. They found that the people who changed both their diet and their exercise regime at the same time were the most successful.

Many people think that sticking to resolutions is all about willpower. It isn’t. Resolutions that rely on abstract, distant goals (“I will get fitter so I can live longer”) are no match for short term desires (“that sofa looks comfortable”). Changing your ways requires help.

© Ovadia Benishu
© Ovadia Benishu

Sign up with a personal trainer you like, persuade a close friend or loved one to join you in a weekly Zumba class, or adopt a dog that howls if you don’t take it for a walk (mine does). The more you can build activity into your life so you can’t avoid it, the more likely you are to succeed.

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If you want to stick to your New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Be specific. Don’t just say to yourself, “I must do a bit more exercise”. Download the NHS app, Couch To 5K, which will guide you through a detailed approach on how to get fitter.
  2. Tell your friends and family what you are doing and ask them to join in. We are social creatures and do much better with the support of others.
  3. Reflect on your past successes. Most people have managed to stick to a resolution at some point in their lives. What did you do last time that worked? What resources do you have that you can call on?

Good luck, and happy New Year!


Dr Michael Mosley is former medical doctor, health writer and BBC presenter. He’s best known as presenter of Trust Me I’m a Doctor on BBC Two but has also written a number of bestsellers about personal health and medicine, including The Fast Diet, Fast Asleep and Fast Exercise.