“New Year, New Me” mindset - how to set realistic resolutions  

Written by Andi Smart - 14th January 2022 


During the build-up to the new year, many of us have at some point or another indulged - whether this be in food, alcohol, present buying and/or binge-watching Netflix. In addition, the last week in December and first few days in January feel like a post festival lull. With confusion setting in (I often have to ask myself: “what day is it?”) on top of the fact that all routines have gone out the window, including the healthy eating, gym and November ‘detox’, not to mention the 4 pounds I have put on, surely, then, the mantra “New Year, New Me” is a good thing?

In this article, I aim to explore why in adopting the “New Year, New Me” mindset, we are often unsuccessful at fulfilling our goals, and I will advise on how you can set realistic and manageable resolutions.  

New Year’s Day resolutions

It would be fair to say that many of us have set New Year’s Day resolutions and – probably – been unsuccessful after a week or so. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 26% of people who made New Year’s resolutions were successful (Manou, 2020).  

Yet the benefits of New Year’s Day resolutions, and the “New Year, New Me” perspective, are undoubtedly noted in the research. For example, resolutions can: help to reenergise and reinvent personal and professional goals and, thus, support healthy and much-needed personal and/or professional change (Gladwell, 2018). This could include leaving a job which makes a person unhappy or taking up a hobby/joining a gym to help increase fitness/social interactions. Shand-Baptise (2021) notes that recurring themes each year include a more active approach to health and fitness, improved finances, and learning new things for personal and professional development.

Nonetheless, there are lots of reasons as to why New Year’s resolutions and the “New Year, New Me” approach can fail. 

Prepare for change

Change does not happen overnight; it is more of a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ process. This involves lots of thought around how change can be implemented and maintained. Lots of us tend to underestimate how challenging change can be without the right support in place, for instance: family, self-care, pre-planning and/or avoiding triggers, places, and extra work. In 2014 I set myself a goal to speak fluent Spanish in 1 year. In hindsight I can see that this was, undoubtedly, impossible - unless I devoted every waking minute to the language and moved to Spain, which I did not. 8 years later and I am still ‘learning’ Spanish. Initially, however, I was not, realistically, prepared for what I needed to do to learn Spanish to such a high level (be fluent). Now, however, I accept that, unless I move to Spain, it is unlikely I will ever be fluent - but I can still hold a decent conversation and I enjoy going to Spanish classes and conversation groups in local bars. This is, by far, more realistic and, consequently, I am more prepared for the realistic change (i.e., I will never speak fluent Spanish but can hold a conversation and I will always be learning).

Set goals that motivate you

Unsurprisingly, then, the research recognises that many of us set goals to please others whether it be a partner or manager and, thus, ultimately, this can lead to limited, if any, long term change (Baluyut, 2021). It also makes the process of change much harder! 

This means that you should always set goals/resolutions that are important to you. Thus, it is a safe bet if your resolutions align with your goals, priorities, dreams, and aspirations. 

When thinking about change, and what you want from the “New Year, New Me”, I would find reasons to help you feel motivated, for instance giving up smoking would be beneficial both from a health perspective and a financial perspective. When you feel less motivated, you could write the positives down on a piece of paper. 

Research suggests that it is critical to document goals as often as possible, as writing down your resolutions helps you to clarify what it is you want to achieve, and reminds you of how far you have come and what you have achieved (Farrell, 2017). You could write things down in a journal, draft an email to yourself, store goals in Evernote or some other note-taking tool, or print and tape resolutions to the fridge or wall. 

Limit resolutions to a manageable amount

A very common mistake is to set too many resolutions and, thus, spread the “New Year, New Me” self too thinly. This means that success is unlikely. A way to manage your resolutions is to write down a list and put a number between 1 to 10 next to them: 1 being not important, 5 being somewhat important and 10 being very important. This may help you figure out which ones are more important and, thus, make the list smaller and more manageable. Be clear (and honest) around how much attention you can devote to a resolution. It is much better to tackle 1 resolution and succeed, than to tackle 5 and not be able to complete any of them. 

Setting realistic goals through SMART! 

Being specific when setting goals is very important, as this will help you see what needs to be done and whether this is a realistic and achievable goal. SMART goals could be used as a way to support you in managing your resolutions. To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, each one should be:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic, and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)

Lots of us may set big goals, but it may be more useful to break up big goals into smaller goals and write them down, so you can see them every day and remind yourself of the benefits to help keep you motivated. Smaller goals also feel more manageable. For example, you could: 

  • List all sub-tasks 
  • Order the sub-tasks from most to least important 
  • Use visual maps to show change as it happens 
  • Assign milestones to each task
  • Add time frames to each task – although make sure you are being realistic
  • Focus on the next step, not the big goal

Lots more reading on SMART goals can be found at: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm 

Review, review, review! 

Regular reviewing is important, as if you are not thinking about your “New Year, New Me” goals and resolutions, you are unlikely to be hitting targets and making positive changes. I find that checking in once a week on my goals and asking myself the following questions can be useful:

  • Am I on ‘target’? If not, why? If so, how does this feel? I would also reflect on the progress that has been made.
  • Are these resolutions still as important to me? If not, what has changed? 
  • What are the hurdles I have faced and how have I overcome these? Would I also know how to overcome the same hurdles should I face these again?
  • Should I add in anything or take something away? If so, why/how? I would then also refer back to SMART, to ensure any additions or changes did not impact on my changes of success. 

If you fall off track, get back on…quick!

Finally, and most importantly, learning to get back on track after a ‘failure’ is important, in addition to offering ourselves self-compassion, as long-term change is hard. There should always be some room for mistakes and setbacks - perfectionism will only set you up for a failure - as setbacks are likely to happen. However as long as setbacks are handled correctly, big goals will not be impacted on. The key, then, is to avoid a defeatist attitude at all costs. This can be demonstrated in the following example scenario: “I had 2 cigarettes at my friend’s house on 17th January, after 17 days of not smoking, so I may as well start smoking again”. The trick here is to explore what triggered the setback, for example “I said my friend could smoke in front of me - but it was too early”. You should then figure out what to do to avoid this happening again, for example “next time I visit my friend, she said that she will go and stand outside and smoke”. 


In conclusion, while the Christmas and New Year period can be fun, it can also prove incredibly challenging, as our routines go out the window and we tend to indulge one way or another. Through the setting of goals and routines, the “New Year, New Me” perspective, has been proven useful in that it can reignite our search for positive change in our personal and professional lives and, thus, can help us get back on track. However, it is important to be realistic with the goals and resolutions we are setting. In addition, we must show ourselves self-compassion, as slip-ups are likely to happen along the way, yet this should not completely throw us off track. We should avoid a defeatist attitude and try to get back on track as soon as possible. This can be done by learning from the mistakes that happen and by reviewing our situations on a weekly basis, to ensure successful changes.


Manou, U. (2020). The psychology behind the 'New year, new me' mindset, explained. Cited on: https://wsbt.com/news/local/the-psychology-behind-the-new-year-new-me-mindset-explained - accessed 20 12 21

Gladwell, H. (2018). Let’s stop it with the ‘new year, new me’ thing: Bettering yourself should have no time limit. Cited on: https://metro.co.uk/2018/01/01/lets-stop-it-with-the-new-year-new-me-thing-bettering-yourself-should-have-no-time-limit-7162602/ - accessed 17 12 21

Shand-Baptise, K. (2021). The concept of ‘New Year, New Me’ sounded ridiculous before the pandemic. Now it’s all I want. Cited on:  https://inews.co.uk/opinion/the-concept-of-new-year-new-me-sounded-ridiculous-before-the-pandemic-now-its-all-i-want-1364214 - accessed 29 12 21

Baluyut, J. (2021). New year, new me? Navigating the resolutions paradigm. Cited on: https://thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/30/12/2021/new-year-new-me-navigating-the-resolutions-paradigm - accessed 20 12 21

Farrell, B. (2017). The Psychology of New Years Eve Reflection. Cited on: https://roadlesstravelled.me/2017/12/31/psychology-of-new-years-eve/ - accessed 18 12 21




Andi Smart - An experienced Mental Health Practitioner , Andi’s specialisms are Autism and Dementia Care, coupled with a strong interest in disability, advocacy, sociology and equality. Andi currently works within NHS Mental Health services as an LGBT specialist and within Education as a subject specialist, helping to develop qualifications and assess quality. Andi is a person-centered counselor and a keen advocate for lifelong learning and gained an MSc in Health and Wellbeing in October 2019.