How to successfully keep your New Year’s resolutions

An expert explains the impact of failing to keep your resolutions on your mental health and how to approach them in a way that will ensure you achieve them. Dilshad Burman reports.

By Dilshad Burman

It’s still early in the New Year, but by now, countless resolutions have already been broken.

As many as 25 per cent of people who set a  goal for the new year when the old one was bid adieu will likely give up this week, according to Amy Deacon, founder of Toronto Wellness Counselling.

She says there are a number of things that make resolutions challenging.

“Resolutions are often these really broad dreams and almost like a fantasy land, but we lack the plan to see those goals come to fruition,” she says.

“[Secondly,] there’s a lot of pressure. You feel like on January 1, you have to get your life together, your career, your finances, your love life. So I think that pressure really overwhelms people.”

She adds that another reason why resolutions are so problematic is that people struggle with the idea of failure and the act of failing.

“When our goals and our resolutions don’t go as planned, we kind of get overwhelmed with shame, and we just throw in the towel — we feel like it’s not worth it to keep trying,” says Deacon.

That failure has a negative impact on mental health.

“You think that you’re inferior — I think that we sometimes really personalize that failure and think that we’re weak — when in reality it’s often not that we are weak, but it’s that we didn’t have the proper structure and systems and plan in place to support our success.”

Setting yourself up for success

Deacon says setting up that support structure will ensure you’re setting yourself up for success. She enumerates a number of steps that involve changing the way you approach the goals you set that will ensure you actually achieve them.

What’s your “why?”

Deacon says it is important to have a concrete reason as to why you’re setting a certain goal.

“So, for instance, if I say my goal is to reduce my social media consumption, why? Because I know it’s not good for my mental health. I know that I need to spend more time in real life with my real friendships.”

An arbitrary goal without a tangible, personal benefit to you is less likely to be met.

Substitute vs. deny

If you decide to stop a certain behaviour or remove something from your life, make sure you are substituting with something else, says Deacon.

“If I want to consume less sugar, I better have a bowl of nuts beside me,” she says.

“Or if I say I want to watch less TV from 8:30 p.m., but I don’t know what to do, I better have a good podcast ready or a book or be ready to go for a walk.”

Think S-M-A-R-T

Deacon offers the acronym S-M-A-R-T as a template that facilitates conscious planning of goals and how they’re going to work.

  • S stands for “specific”: Being deliberate and descriptive about your goal provides a structured framework to achieve it.
    “For instance, the resolution would be, ‘I won’t spend less time on social media.’ The specific goal would be ‘I want to spend no more than 20 minutes a day on social media, and I want to be social media free on the weekends,'” explains Deacon.


  • M stands for “measurable”: It is important to ensure that you can measure whether or not you’re meeting your expectations for the goal you’ve set. In the example of cutting down on social media usage, Deacon suggests setting a timer and installing an app that blocks social media apps and sets daily limits.


  • A stands for “attainability”: Goals need to be realistic for your life condition. Deacon says if your work necessitates time on social media, for example, it isn’t realistic to set a goal that would prevent you from doing your job. Setting a realistic goal naturally makes it more achievable.


  • R stands for “relevant”: A goal must make sense of who you are and where you are in your life. The relevancy of the goal ties back into the “why of it all.” If you’re trying to reduce your time on social media, tap into the reasons why and the benefits therein.


  • T stands for “time-bound”: Having a set time limit by which the goal needs to either be accomplished or re-evaluated once again provides structure and focus.

Reach out for support

Deacon says it is important to have a plan for if or when you slip up.

“We have to expect that challenges are going to come our way. And so when those challenges come, what kind of support do you need to get back on your feet?”

Accountability buddies, for example, can help get you back on track. Internally assessing whether you set your sights too high and re-evaluating your expectations to meet your abilities can also help.

If you’ve tried everything possible to accomplish your self-improvement goals but just haven’t been able to hack it, Deacon says it may be time to reach out for support.

“Sometimes we’re able to navigate our goals by ourselves, but sometimes we need to reach out to that financial advisor or to the nutritionist or the therapist or even just go to the library and see what resources exist to really help us achieve those goals,” she says.

Aligning your goals with your values

Deacon says you’re more likely to keep a resolution if it is in line with your core beliefs.

“We’re so susceptible to being influenced by external pressures and almost feeling the need to be something that we’re not,” she says.

“That’s not going to last because that’s not who you’re meant to be.”

Instead of setting goals that might be trendy or perhaps common amongst your friends, she advises checking in with yourself and your needs.

“What do you need this year? What would really help you to feel just perhaps a little bit healthier, a little bit more whole, a little bit calmer? We want to make that the priority,” she says.

Reframing failure

Deacon says many of us see failure as a full-stop.

“I think that pursuing goals is such a great opportunity to wrestle with that and to really realize that life is not linear,” she says.

“We are always gonna be one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back. And the better you get at being able to navigate that ebb and flow — the resilience that you gain and the ways that your mental health benefits is worth its weight in gold.”

She adds that failure needs to be re-framed as a part of the path to achieving your goals rather than a dead end.

“[Come] to any semblance of peace that the fall down is going to be inevitable, but how you get yourself back up can be so powerful,” she says.

“And so really unpacking — ‘do I have to have to be careful with myself talk? Do I have to reach out to a friend for support? Is this the time that I need to tap into a professional to perhaps really help mentor me in achieving my goals?”

There is no right time for resolutions

While January is usually the traditional time to make resolutions, Deacon says it doesn’t have to be.

“January 1 is a lovely holiday, but in terms of your mental health and your psychology and your overall health, that’s not the start date. The start date is when it’s in alignment with your life when you feel like you’re ready for something different,” she says.

“It’s about the goal being in alignment with what matters most to you, your values and you feeling as though you’re in the right place to see it through and that you have the right plan in place.”

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