It has been about a month since the new year began. The ball dropping in Times Square, the Rose Parade, and the new year’s sales are fast becoming distant memories. Most of us are moving through the start of 2105 at a frenzied pace and have our plate full with many obligations.

As the days fly by, many of us may momentarily recall the new year’s resolutions we made or thought about making. It is common to put these resolutions on a back burner and attend to the day-to-day necessities. However, taking some time now to revisit the resolutions you hoped would guide your year is important.

If you found that you haven’t been able to invest in your new year’s resolutions, don’t despair. While it is often the case that we lack the time or motivation to commit fully to resolutions, it is also the case that some of the resolutions we select are not actionable. We often choose broad goals that are not specific or attainable and end up feeling unsuccessful and unmotivated. Some modifications in the goal can make a big difference — moving us from a situation of likely failure to one of more probable goal completion. Taking some time now to evaluate your resolutions can put you on the road to success.


Research has shown that there are several key factors that influence the likelihood of success or “sticking” to a resolution.

Dr. John Norcross’ work shows that we are more successful when setting goals that follow the SMART acronym. This refers to seeing goals that are specific (clearly defined), measurable (based on some reliable measurement), attainable (realistically possible to achieve), relevant (meaningful to you) and time-specific (contain a specific start and stop time).

Instead of saying I want to lose weight this year, resolve to lose two pounds each month by walking for 15 minutes four times a week and passing on desserts for all but three meals each week for one month and then re-evaluate your progress with the goal of making any needed changes. Likewise, the goal of “being more connected with others” is not likely achievable, but the goal of “scheduling one social contact per week” (i.e., a hike, lunch or dinner) with a friend each week for eight weeks and then re-evaluating progress, is more likely to lead to success. Success in small, well-defined goals can lead to achieving larger goals over time.

Here are specific tips for refining resolutions to make them workable goals:

» 1) Use “SMART” goals. According to Dr. Norcross, we will be more successful if we set goals that follow the SMART acronym, which refers to setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific.

» 2) Limit your focus to one or two goals at a time.

» 3) Keep track of your progress. Monitor your progress on a calendar or an app where you can record your progress and be aware of any slips.

» 4) Reinforce small achievements. Plan to reinforce yourself for reaching interval goals. When you lose the first two pounds toward your goal or clean out the first closet in your house, give yourself a reward.

» 5) Anticipate that motivation will decrease. Research shows that the farther away from the resolution setting, the harder it will be to maintain your goals. To remain focused on the importance of your goal, try visualizing it daily, organize reminders (a photo of the new jeans you hope to wear soon on your bathroom mirror, a picture as your screen saver of the vacation site you hope to visit when you save enough money) and reciting the goal to yourself daily when you awaken.

» 6) Restructure routines that don’t support your goals. If you find yourself succumbing to a pastry on your way to work, change the side of the street you walk on to avoid the pastry shop. Likewise, try changing the time of day you work out to see if you might have more energy at another time.

» 7) Make your goal public. By letting your family, friends and work colleagues know about your goal, you are making yourself accountable to them and increasing the chances you will be successful.

» 8) Invite others to join in your goal. Research shows that people who work with others to reach a goal are generally more successful in attaining it.

» 9) Be kind to yourself. Even successful resolution-setters report they experience some plateaus and slip-ups. Expect that these will come, and don’t beat yourself up about them. Instead, use these experiences as an opportunity to refocus on your goal and its importance.

— Winifred Lender, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Santa Barbara and can be contacted at drwinifredlender@gmail.com. She is the author of A Practical Guide to Parenting in the Digital Age: How to Nurture Safe, Balanced and Connected Children and Teens available at Chaucer’s and Amazon. Dr. Lender completed her undergraduate work at Cornell University and received her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed a fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and is a past president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.