Every year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions with the hope of kicking off the new year on a positive note – and why should 2021 be any different. It should come as no surprise that at the top of that list, year after year, is our desire to lose weight and get more active. For most of us, we set these personal goals because we hope the year to come with be healthier and happier than the one before. Yet despite our best intentions, why is it so hard for us to keep our New Year’s resolutions?

Because we are not specific enough.

Perhaps the biggest reason we fail to keep our resolutions is because we are too vague when we create them. Instead of creating generic goals such as ‘to lose weight’, set specific long-term, medium-term and long-term goals : what do I need to do this week, this month or several months from now? Set reasonable goals for yourself and work your way up towards more ambitious ones. If you haven’t been very active, instead of buying a gym membership and expecting yourself to go 5 days a week, begin by walking 15 minutes a day and increasing from there.

Because we do not frame them positively.

It might surprise you to hear that negative language can also set you up for failure. When we resolve to stop eating junk food for instance, it can often backfire because it makes us think about the very thing we are trying to avoid. What if someone told you not to think about purple and orange striped pandas – you would have to think about what that would look like in order to not think about it. Instead of saying we shouldn’t eat junk food, we should be giving ourselves a more positive message and telling ourselves the behavior we desire – to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Because we like to beat ourselves up.

Remember, perfection is unattainable. Minor missteps are likely to occur as we work to reach our goals and that is perfectly ok! Don’t give up on yourself because you ate a brownie and broke your diet or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. It is easy to see these ups and downs as failures – but instead, resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.

Adopting a new healthy habit, or breaking an old, bad one, can be terribly difficult. But research suggests that any effort you make is worthwhile, even if you encounter setbacks or find yourself backsliding from time to time. Just making a New Year’s resolution can boost your chances of eventual success.

Interested in learning about the psychology behind making healthier habits last? Read our article on the transtheoretical model or stages of change model developed by researchers  James O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente.