How to make successful, realistic and attainable New Year's Resolutions

Thursday, January 10, 2013 2:08 PM | Wonder Women of Boston (Administrator)

By Johanna Voss

We know it’s coming, every year. December 31st and January 1st. The end of the year and the inevitable thought of r e s o l u t i o n s, whether you make ‘em or not. (And you can't make a resolution to not make a resolution. That just doesn't work.)

Unfortunately for those of us that do make resolutions, most of us fall into this space of being unsuccessful with our resolutions. And not too soon after making them, we already feel as if we have failed. Yet inevitably the following year, what do we do but make yet another resolution.

The good news is that you are part of the majority. Yay! Studies show that 88% of people who set resolutions feel as if they have failed no matter how confident they were of their resolutions’ success from the onset.

Well that’s not cool.

With the task of writing this article upon me, I got curious as to the origin of resolutions.

Whose idea was this anyway?

After extensive research (aka, The Google) I stumbled upon some interesting facts.
  1. New Year’s celebration is the oldest of all holidays.
  2. Historically it was first celebrated in ancient Babylon around 4,000 years ago.
  3. Previously, New Year’s celebrations took place in the spring, around March 23rd. It being a season of rebirth and new crops made that date much more aligned with the idea of a new year or new cycle.
  4. And my favorite fact by far: Most Babylonians resolved to return farm equipment in the New Year.

My, how far we’ve come. (Although I guess I can’t speak for today’s farmers. Perhaps they borrow farm equipment often throughout the year?)

While reading about different culture’s New Year’s traditions and common resolutions, I was struck by a few things. Most importantly, the simplicity of other cultures’ and older civilizations’ resolutions.

It made me realize that we, us North Americans (and myself most definitely included), aren’t good at keeping things simple when it comes to resolutions.

I will lose weight. I will go to the gym. I will be nicer. I will be less stressed. I will be more patient. I will cook more. I will stop smoking. I will sleep better.

Sound familiar? There’s a lot going on there.

I was also struck by the quantifiable-ness, the measure-ability, of some of these older civilizations’ resolutions.

Take the typical resolution of an Ancient Babylonian  I will return borrowed farm equipment.

When borrowed farm equipment is returned, mission accomplished! Everyone involved feels great, everyone is clear as to what need to happens to make this resolution come true. And it’s most definitely crossed off the Babylonian to-do least until the next year.

As a health coach, I’m all about people setting goals - both of the short term and long term variety.  So I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t love love love January 1st and wake up with a laundry list of resolutions myself.

That being said, I think it’s clear that we can learn a thing or two from the Ancient Babylonians about how to set resolutions. No matter if you’ve made them already for 2013, haven’t yet gotten around that or avoiding this topic like the plague, here’s some suggestions about how to be in the 12% of people who actually feel success with their resolutions.

#1 Keep it simple.
There are a couple ways to go about this.

 a. One is the more obvious answer, which is to only pick a couple resolutions, instead of a whole list.

b.  Another approach, which is one of my approaches this year is to pick a theme. Maybe you pick three words that you want to embody your 2013 experience. I’ve chosen Adventure. Growth. Shine. Some other themes you could go with are: Divine, Honest, Grateful, Mindful, Glowing, Vibrant, Sexy, Empowered.

c.  Finally, instead of focusing on what you are going to do, focus instead on how you are going to feel. And then from that, make the connection about what you need to do in order to achieve that feeling. For example, perhaps you want to feel strong (in body.) This could be done by running your first 10k. Or lifting weights 2x/week. Maybe you want to feel strong (in mind) so adding a twice weekly meditation to your  calendar is your ticket. The difference here is that you are taking a larger view at what you are doing. It’s not about getting stuck up in the weeds of “ugh, I have to go to the gym today” but more, “I’m getting stronger” today. I know that personally when I change my mindset to, “Johanna, how do you want to feel today?” there is a shift in my attitude towards whatever I need to do to achieve that feeling. My action becomes the means to an end, not the end. You with me?

#2 Make it measureable.
How can you set up milestones along the way to know that you are reaching your goal?

a. Adding quantifiers such as “I’m going to do such and such activity three times a week or once every four months or weekly” are HUGE in helping us progress and have a sense of accomplishment. Can you see already how much further you are on your resolution journey by stating, “I’m going to run a 10k every 3 months” vs “I’m going to run” or “I’m going to be healthy?”

b. Tracking your progress is a necessity. How? Write down what you do on whatever calendar or time management tool you use the most. I write down my daily accomplishments in my google calendar, which of course synchs to my iphone. And it’s color coded, so all that beautiful color jumps out at me, reminding me that I’m awesome. And making progress. 

#3 It takes a village.

a. You aren’t in this alone. Share your resolutions. Chances are some of your resolutions can be accomplished with the help of someone else. My mom and I skyped last week to share our resolutions. I know that she would appreciate my help in reaching hers. And I know for sure that I can’t reach mine alone without the help of my family and friends.

b.  Don’t hesitate to pair up with a friend or an accountability partner. You’re less likely to let a friend down than you are let yourself down. By making that commitment to someone else, even if it’s just verbal, you’re putting yourself on the path of successful resolution-ness in 2013.

Here’s to you being even more of a Wonder Woman than you already are.

Johanna Voss is a whiz at making it easier for you to eat healthier, have more energy, overcome cravings and work out.  Her latest program, New Year, New You; 4 Week Bootcamp to Detox Your Indulgences starts January 21st, 2013. She is a Health Coach, wellness nut, bookworm, traveler, adventurer, cook, half marathoner, Spanish speaker, nosy bookstore and cafe dweller. Her motto is: “Eat well. Be happy. Love life.” She hangs out at


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