5 Strategies to Create a Successful New Year’s Resolution

5 Strategies to Create a Successful New Year's Resolution
Elliott Appel, CFP®, CLU®, RLP®

Elliott Appel, CFP®, CLU®, RLP®

Welcome! I'm the founder of Kindness Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only, fiduciary advisor located in Madison, WI working virtually with widows, caregivers, and people affected by major health events across the United States. When I'm not helping people live their ideal life, I'm often cooking for my wife, playing tennis, or hiking.

Last Updated on February 28, 2022


I love and hate New Year’s resolutions. What about you? 

I love them because it feels like a natural time to make a change. People are often reflecting on the last year and trying to figure out how to make the next year more ideal for themselves. What’s not to love? 

I hate them because it feels like there is significant pressure to make a drastic change in life. Some people feel a sense of obligation to create one, don’t stick with it, and then are disappointed. Plus, I’m a believer in that if you want to make a change, do it then – don’t wait until months or weeks pass for a new year. 

Despite this, I have had success in creating New Year’s resolutions and have appreciated what they have brought to my life. 

If you are looking to make a change this year or are open to the possibility of change, let’s discuss five strategies to create a successful New Year’s resolution. 

Pick One Resolution 

Wouldn’t we all like to instantly change multiple things in our lives? 

I know I would.

I’d love to read more, lift weights consistently, cook tastier meals, play guitar more than once in a while, and take photos with my camera more than when I am on vacation, but I know if I tried to do all of those things, I would fail miserably. 

Realistically, I can’t make that many changes in my life. 

Instead of picking multiple New Year’s resolutions, pick one. Only one. 

Pick one that you are most passionate about. Pick the one where if you fast forward a year from now, it would feel incredible if you accomplished it. 

Now that you have your resolution in mind, model it after a SMART goal. Smart goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Instead of “I want to exercise more”, it could be, “I want to walk twice a week for 30 minutes next year.” 

Specific and Measurable: It’s specific and measurable. You know at the end of each week whether you walked twice for 30 minutes. 

Achievable: I can’t say for certain whether it’s achievable for you, but for many people, I think it’s achievable. You can adjust to your own mobility capabilities. 

Relevant: I also can’t say for certain whether it’s relevant for you. Maybe you already exercise enough and that goal is not relevant for you. You can adjust your new year’s resolution to make it relevant for you. Remember, pick something you are passionate about. 

Time-Bound: Lastly, it’s time bound. You can measure it at the end of each week and the end of the year. 

To help with your inspiration, I want to share a few New Year’s resolutions that impacted my life. 

One year I decided to take a photo a day. I love photography, but it comes and goes in my life as I have time. I wanted to prioritize it. I committed to taking and posting one photo a day on Instagram for a year. 

What I loved about this New Year’s resolution is that on a daily basis, it did not take much time, but it got me back into photography. I also had a public audience of friends and family because I committed publicly to doing this project. Peer pressure can be a helpful motivator. 

Another year I decided to write one letter a month to people who impacted my life. I had the opportunity to show more gratitude, practice writing, and by doing it only once per month, it felt achievable. Most people have the time to write 12 letters in a year. 

Now that you have your New Year’s resolution in mind, let’s talk about creating a system to achieve it. 

Create a System

Creating a New Year’s resolution and then trying to do it on day one probably won’t be the most successful strategy. 

Like your finances, a system should be in place to help set yourself up for success. Create a plan of how you are going to achieve your New Year’s resolution.

For example, if your New Year’s resolution is to walk twice a week for 30 minutes, consider blocking time on your calendar at the same time every day. Pick a time when you are most likely to actually do it. 

I know some people like working out in the evening, but if they wait until the end of the day, they may not go to the gym because they are too tired. Instead, they work out in the morning before doing anything else to ensure they get it done.

You can do the same thing with walking. 

Create time on your calendar for when you know you are most productive to achieve things. 

Also, creating the system may require research. For instance, if you want to lose weight, maybe you need to research healthy meals and exercise routines to lose weight. It’s not something where you can instantly start working out and expect results because there are many habits that affect weight. 

Set aside the time you need to create a plan in advance of starting your New Year’s resolution. 

Another popular strategy when creating a system is to replace one habit with another habit. For example, I used to snack mid-morning on unhealthy things. I wasn’t necessarily hungry, but I felt like I wanted something to eat.

Instead, I started making sure I had fruit and nuts around. I was still eating, but I was replacing a bad habit with a better habit. 

Want to stop watching as much television? Have more books around or a list of other fun activities.

Want to reduce your sugar intake? Keep sweets around in smaller sizes, but make sure you have other naturally sweet food, too. 

Also, don’t feel like you need to change overnight. If you don’t feel you can walk 30 minutes twice a week, start with 5 minutes. Then, after you are comfortable, try 10 minutes. Build your way up to 30 minutes over time. 

Most change starts with small steps forward. 

Use your own creativity to design a system that works best for you. 

Share with Others

Once you know your New Year’s Resolution and have created a system of success, share it with others! 

Peer pressure is a great influence in this context. 

Most people don’t feel great when they let themselves down, but they often will because they only have to answer to themselves. 

What if you had to tell your friends or family that you did not achieve your New Year’s resolution? 

When there is more at stake, we are more likely to take action because we don’t want to tell others we didn’t achieve something. 

Plus, when we accomplish something, it’s more fun sharing it with others. Imagine accomplishing your New Year’s resolution a year from now and celebrating with your loved ones. How great would that be? 

Having an accountability partner can bring words of encouragement when you are feeling behind, smiles during achievements, and extra pressure to motivate you when you don’t feel like doing what you set out to do. 

I’ve found that the more people you tell, the more motivation there is to stick with it. If you only tell one person, you only let one person down if you don’t do it.

If you tell a large group of people, now you have support from a bigger audience. 

Share your New Year’s resolution with others. Make it public. 

Keep Reminders Around 

Although sharing with others is good, make it public for yourself. 

A visual reminder is a helpful motivator.

I find that one of the best places to put a note as a reminder is the bathroom mirror. Write your goal on a piece of paper and attach it to the bathroom mirror. You’ll likely pass it multiple times per day. 

You are also less likely to be distracted by other things. For example, if you put a note in your living room, there is a good chance you’ll miss it because you’ll be talking with others, reading, or watching television. As you wash your hands, there isn’t much else to do besides look at your reminder. 

A note is a simpler reminder, but you could make it fancy. You could print a photo and put the words, “Why I __________” on it. For example, if your goal is walking twice a week for 30 minutes, you could print an image of your grandchildren and put the words “Why I Walk 30 Minutes Twice a Week” on it. 

If you are wanting to walk and be active to spend more quality, energetic time with your grandkids, a photo is a great reminder! 

You could put the image in your kitchen along with a note in the bathroom. I like putting a couple reminders in areas where you normally would not put notes. By putting them in areas you normally don’t put notes, it should give you a better chance of noticing them and thinking about them more. 

Celebrate Along the Way

Although it’s a New Year’s resolution and you are aiming for an entire year of activity, don’t forget to celebrate along the way! 

If you achieve part of your goal a week into the year, celebrate the win. You don’t have to wait until the end of the year. It’s important to celebrate milestones along the way because it’s the small, consistent actions that lead to larger, beneficial outcomes. 

On the days and weeks where you don’t reach your goal, show yourself grace and forgiveness. If you wanted to walk for 30 minutes and you walked for 10 minutes instead, that’s okay. At least you did something. 

Sticking with the habit, even for less time, is better than not doing it all. At least you are keeping the momentum and get the benefit of that action. It’s much easier to continue a habit than start one from scratch again. 

I know it can feel like you didn’t achieve your goal, but on the days when you really don’t want to do something and you still make the time to achieve part of your goal, that’s a win. Many people will favor not doing something instead of attempting it and falling short of their goal, and that’s the wrong way to look at it. Achieving part of your goal is a win. 

If you have an accountability partner, celebrate with them. If they shared their New Year’s resolutions, put time on the calendar throughout the year to celebrate. It gives you more points in time and breaks up the year into manageable chunks. 

Final Thoughts – My Question for You

New Year’s resolutions can be tough because many people don’t put in the time necessary to give themselves a higher likelihood of succeeding. 

First, figure out what you are passionate about. What do you want to achieve most? What do you want to change the most? What will bring the biggest impact to your life a year from now? 

Then, pick that one resolution. 

I know most of us want to change multiple things, but if you apply energy to one thing at a time, you are more likely to achieve it. 

From there, create a system to help you achieve it. Use your calendar to schedule time. Research what you need to achieve the New Year’s resolution. Replace bad habits with better habits. 

Next, share it with others. Create good peer pressure. Make it as public as you feel comfortable. 

Then, create reminders. Put a note on your bathroom mirror or another place where you don’t normally keep reminders. 

Finally, celebrate along the way. Small wins can turn into big wins. 

I’ll leave you with one question to act on. 

What is your New Year’s resolution for 2022?

If you are open to it and want an accountability partner, share it with me by emailing hello@kindnessfp.com

Disclaimer: This article is for general information and educational purposes only and should not be considered investment, financial, legal, or tax advice. It is not a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security or investment advisory services. Please consult your own legal, financial, and other professionals to determine what may be appropriate for you. Opinions expressed are as of the date of publication, and such opinions are subject to change. Click for full disclaimer.

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