Setting resolutions for the New Year’s can be hard. Come January 2nd, even the most driven goal-setters may start to give in to temptation. Whether it’s indulging in that last slice of apple pie or hitting the snooze button instead of hitting the gym, it’s not always completely our fault…

According to Dr. Joseph Shrand, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, pleasure resides in the back of our brains and is part of our survival instinct. On the other hand, self-control resides in the front part of our brains and it isn’t necessary for survival. So, when we’re faced with the choice between sleeping in or getting on the treadmill, our “survival instinct” can easily win the battle… if we let it. Once you understand what you’re up against (and how the science of your own brain works against you sometimes!), you can use science in your favor. Here are 4 science-backed methods for setting resolutions that will last this New Year:  

1. Break It Up When Setting Resolutions

  • “Lose 10 pounds by March” is an attainable and specific goal, but to some, it may seem pretty daunting. Instead of setting one big goal, break it up into smaller changes you can make every day. For example, if you work in an multi-level building, use a bathroom on a different floor. When you go to the grocery store, park farther away. When you’re about to grab some chips or candy, grab some veggies or fruit instead. You’re more likely to stick with a goal when you can make small, actionable changes throughout your day.

2. Focus on Making Yourself Proud

  • All it takes is one little slip-up to get caught in an icky cycle of self-doubt. Instead of giving up on your goal after making a mistake, write a list of all the things you did last year that make you feel proud of yourself. Maybe you got a new job, made a new friend, or mastered some new dishes in the kitchen. Seeing how much willpower you actually have can give you the mood boost needed to get back on track.

3. Share Your Success With Your Support System

  • Your loved ones want you to succeed, so why not enlist them as cheerleaders on your journey? By sharing your goals with others, you’re not only arming yourself with a crew of accountability partners but you’re also surrounding yourself with a support team who will share in your triumphs. Texting, emailing, or calling a loved one after you’ve made progress toward your goal releases oxytocin, another feel-good chemical in the brain that’ll motivate you to keep going. (There we go using science in our favor again!)

4. Believe in Yourself!

  • Self-fulfilling prophecies are real! If you don’t truly believe you can achieve your goal, chances are you probably won’t achieve it. Here are a few tricks for turning an “I can’t” into an “I can.”
    • Focus on the big picture by identifying why you set your goal in the first place. If you want to lose weight in the New Year, think about the reason behind it. Maybe you’re aiming to manage your type 2 diabetes through diet rather than meds. Or maybe you want to be able to keep up with your children, like Tammy did. Thinking of the big picture will help you during times of temptation.
    • It’s good to hold yourself accountable, but don’t try to achieve perfection. Know that nobody is perfect and that slip-ups happen to the best of us. When you make a mistake–and you will–take a moment, reflect on what happened, then shake it off and keep moving forward.
    • Replace unhappy thoughts with positive ones. If you catch yourself brooding— “This is too hard,” or “I want to give up,”–try changing the tone of your thoughts. Instead, try thinking, “This is hard, but I can do it,” or “I’ve already made so much progress, giving up now would be silly.”


There are many ways to make sure you’re staying on track with your goals. Yes, this can be a challenging process but thinking about these goals differently can make a big difference. Remember: build a solid support system, break your goal up into smaller actions, and have faith in yourself.

Disclaimer Statement: This is for educational purposes only and not intended as medical advice. For individual medical advice, contact your healthcare practitioner.