How to pick a New Year’s Resolution that you can make stick

It’s that time of year again

So it’s that unique time of year again. Health Clubs and Gyms bring in extra staff to deal with the in-rush of new membership sales as people, coming down from the excesses of Christmas Festivities, begin to consider the New Year and the long stretch of unrelenting stress that sits between New Year’s day and the Easter Break.

And so begin the “New Year’s Resolutions”

iQuanti, a data-driven digital marketing company, compiled a list of the most popular resolutions based on Google search terms. According to the data pulled from Google by iQuanti last year, these are the most popular New Year’s resolutions:

  • Get Healthy: 62,776,640 searches.
  • Get Organized: 33,230,420 searches.
  • Live Life to the Fullest: 18,970,210.
  • Learn New Hobbies: 17,438,670 searches.
  • Spend Less/Save More: 15,905,290 searches.
  • Travel: 5,964,130 searches.
  • Read More: 4,746,560 searches.
  • Grand Total: 159,031,920.

It comes as no suprise to most people that 33-50% of new gym memberships come in January. The second week of January is almost always the busiest of the year.

Welcome to the drop-off

Despite all of these searches, an article in Forbes Magazine on the subject suggests that only 8% of resolutions are achieved. According to The Guardian, around 65% of people who make a New Year’s Resolution fail to achieve it, and give up within 2 months, with around 80% of people drop off from the gym by mid-february.

And this goes some way to explaining why gyms typically sell memberships with the expectation that a mere 18% of people will actually use them, and why it’s impossible to get on a gym machine in January!

Making a New Year’s Resolution stick isn’t about willpower

Google something like “how to make New Year’s resolutions stick” and you’ll get standard motivational fare such as:

  • Clearly define your goals / make it SMART
  • Track your progress
  • Make yourself accountable to friends and family
  • It takes 21 days to form a habit
  • Use an app

People think that they fail in achieving a New Year’s Resolution because they have a lack of willpower, but it’s not. It’s because people are in a state of nervous system disregulation through excessive stress and (maybe) trauma. People have a few days off and their logical heads look to external events to resolve the effects of the stress, not the stress itself. And this self-prescription to improve is usually ignorant of this fact because when dysregulated we tend to become desensitised to the underlying issues that dysregulated us in the first place.

The "Window of Tolerance" model shows how we react to stress and trauma. When outside of the green we become desenstised to our internal state and this is evident when we set goals for ourselves that we don't achieve. It's not lack of motivation, it's lack of congruence that causes this.
The “Window of Tolerance” model shows how we react to stress and trauma. When outside of the green we become desenstised to our internal state and this is evident when we set goals for ourselves that we don’t achieve. It’s not lack of motivation, it’s lack of congruence that causes this.

Regulated people are internally motivated to achieve something. If you find yourself saying “I should….”, “I must…” and looking for external motivations to achieve something, then stop and find out what’s going on. Perhaps you do need to start exercising, perhaps you do need to change your diet or spend more time with your family. But if you have prescribed New Year’s Resolutions that aren’t in your (internal) best interest, and you are making decisions from outside of your window of tolerance, then you won’t achieve them because you are battling yourself internally, and no matter how much willpower you think you have, your body will win.

No matter how much willpower you think you have, your body will win.

The role of Interoception in achieving a New Year’s Resolution

So take some time over the next few days to listen to your internal motivations. And if you can’t do this, learn! Developing interoception (internal perception of how we are and how we feel) will not only improve your overall motivation and drive, but also your intuition which is an essential component of success in any field.

If you struggle with this, go find some help. I recommend you start with some great books, such as “The Body Keeps the Score”, “mBraining” (links at the end), develop your understanding of how your nervous system works so that you can make better decisions. If that doesn’t work, go see a coach that specialises in stress and \ or trauma. NLP, mBIT, Somatic therapy, Feldenkrais would all help, as would Pilates, Yoga or Meditation if you have a therapeutic teacher. Once you’ve developed your interoception, you’ll be able to set a New Year’s Resolution that sticks automatically, because it’s what you really want to achieve.

Our bodies aren’t designed to handle this level or type of stress

To make successful change in your life, it’s important that you learn how to know when your stress physiology is through the roof. You need to know when you need to calm down and take it easy. If, instead, you cane it down the gym with high energy aerobics when your nervous system is stressed, because you told everyone you’d be doing Spin class 3 days a week, you’ll get sick and find that by February you’re just not able to sustain your commitment because your body has put the emergency brake on. Not only do you then feel bad and question yourself (which stresses you more by the way), you then end up “hanging on till Easter” and the cycle starts again. The reason you don’t achieve New Year’s Resolutions isn’t in the outside world.

The better you doesn’t start on 1st January. And more likely than not it doesn’t start on an exercise bike. It starts with you, whenever you’re ready.

Make your New Year’s Resolution stick at The Science of Feeling Good

he Science of Feeling Good! Heart Rate Variability, Multiple Brain Integration, Coherence and much, much more!
If you want to learn more on this subject, and develop your interoception, join me at “The Science of Feeling Good” where we will be exploring this in great detail

Further reading

Kruse, K., A Psychologist’s Secrets To Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick. Forbes. Link here.

Arnett, G., How long do people keep their New Year resolutions?  The Guardian. Link here.

van Der Kolk, B., The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma. 2015. Penguin . Link here.

Soosalu, G., Oka, M., mBraining: Using your Multiple Brains to do cool Stuff. 2012. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Link here.

Siegel, D., The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. Second ed. 2012. New York: The Guilford Press. Link here.

Buczynski, R., How to Help Your Clients Understand Their Window of Tolerance. National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. Link here.

Matzler, K., Uzelac, B., Bauer, F., The Role of Intuition and Deliberation for Exploration and Exploitation Success. 2014. Journal of Creativity and Innovation. Link here.


Experienced business leader, mentor and coach, with fascinations for technology, psychology and ancient philosophies. A self-confessed techno hippy with a unique talent for bringing the best out in people.

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