What to Do When Your New Year’s Resolutions Run out of Steam

Vanessa Raymond Fact Checked
Deflated balloons
© juan moyano / Stocksy United

It’s a few weeks into the new year. And you’re starting to feel just a little less excited about those New Year’s resolutions, right?

You’re not alone.

It’s perfectly normal

That’s a common experience, according to clinical psychologist Patrick Raue, Ph.D. “We shouldn’t be surprised when our motivation wanes, maybe a few weeks into the new year,” says Raue.

So now what? Abandon all hope?

It’s not quite that bad. With some fine-tuning of your initial goal and tweaking of your strategy to reach it, you stand a good chance of resuscitating your New Year’s resolutions, says Raue.

“It’s perfectly okay to adjust your New Year’s resolutions to make them more attainable when you begin to lose momentum,” he says.

Keeping it real

Begin by reviewing both your successes and challenges in sticking to your resolutions. Start by taking an honest look at how close you came to making your goals.

Let’s say that you had a goal of going to the gym three days a week, but have been going only one day a week instead. Check in with yourself on whether your initial goal is still important to you.

If it is, think through the pros and cons of sticking to that goal. This review process reminds you why you made the resolutions in the first place and helps you recommit to them, says Raue. “It may also help to write the pros and cons out as a way to make your thought process more concrete,” he says.

Assess and adjust as necessary

Next, assess what prevented you from achieving your goal. Did you bite off more than you can chew? For example, was expecting that you would go to the gym three days a week a feasible goal?

Taking what you’ve gleaned from your performance so far, think of ways to recalibrate your initial goal. The idea here is to fine-tune your goal to make it more achievable in relationship to the challenges you encountered.

Perhaps you learned that you really do dislike most things about the gym—from the drive there to the annoying person who always seems to end up working out next to you. You don’t consider gym time to be quality time—not even a little bit.

Recognize your long-term goal

Now what?

“It’s good to take a step back and think about your overarching goal,” says Raue.

What were you really trying to accomplish with your resolution?

If your goal is actually to get more exercise and be healthier, you may have a preconceived notion that going to the gym three days a week, for example, is the right way to achieve this when in fact there are many different ways to do so, says Raue.

Now you can brainstorm other ways to reach your overarching goal while minimizing the parts that you disliked. Going to the gym is only one of many options.

Put your thinking cap on

It can help to think outside of the box. Using the gym example, a kickboxing class, bicycling to work and even home exercises could all help you to achieve what you are trying to accomplish without setting foot in a gym. 

If you allow yourself flexible means to meet your overarching goal, you are giving yourself more opportunities to succeed, says Raue. Your horizons will expand. Suddenly you’ll remember the regular planking session that takes place at your office or the neighbor that asked you to sub in for her kickball league.

The gym may still be a part of the plan, but you may decide to go only one day a week and fill in the gaps with other activities instead.

“There is not only one right way to get where you want to go,” says Raue.

Focus on the small wins

A strategy to ensure success is to give yourself small wins along the path to your larger goal.

Though you would love to work out three days a week, given your work schedule, your family obligations and your fatigue, three days proved to be too tall an order.

Scale your plan back to one day a week for starters, and you’re much more likely to score a win.

“Setting a small goal at first so that you show yourself you can do it increases a sense of self-efficacy and mastery,” says Raue.

How it worked out this week can then inform how you approach your goal the following week.

Give credit where it’s due

Give yourself credit for whatever forward progress you make, no matter how small. That credit and acknowledgement helps you to feel more confident, and more likely to continue on your plan.

It is a sense of self-efficacy and accomplishment that will motivate you to stay the course, says Raue.

Even if your end goal is significantly different from where you start out, you’ll experience more success if you give yourself milestones to meet—and celebrate—along the way.

Anticipate obstacles

Now that you have a few weeks of practice under your belt, it should also be easier for you to anticipate potential roadblocks. Look at what obstacles prevented you from meeting your goal these first few weeks and brainstorm ways to work around them.

If you were too tired, perhaps you can go to bed half an hour earlier every night. If it was the commute that did you in, you can go to the gym at a different hour of the day. And so on.  

Get specific

Just as you were specific about the successes and failures of your initial resolution, get specific about how you will fit your revised resolutions into your life.

While going to the gym once per week sounds like a good goal, what time of day will you actually go? How will you get there and back?

“When you think about the specifics, you are more aware of where it could fit—or not—into your daily life,” says Raue. And it gives you the opportunity to prepare for potential obstacles ahead of time.

Be accountable to yourself and find an accountability partner, too

If you had a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday at noon, you’d go, right? Try putting your gym workout on your calendar for Tuesday at noon as a way of holding yourself accountable.

Another way to reinforce your commitment is to enlist a partner. Get a friend to commit to their goal while you commit to yours.

Then check in. Follow up with your friend and ask how things went.

Same goes for you. It’s just another kind of accountability—to yourself and to your friend, too, says Raue.

Forgive and forget

Once in a while, life throws you a curveball. Or two. Or three. There will inevitably be life events that disrupt your new routine.

Maybe a child or partner gets sick or a work project requires your complete attention. Whatever it is, cut yourself some slack when needed, says Raue.

Just remember to return to your new routine once that stressor is resolved. It may even mean starting from square one again. Just recommit to your goals again once you are able, he says.

You may get derailed, but it’s important to not get discouraged. Over time, you make small changes, consolidate those and set slightly bigger goals, and suddenly you have a new routine, says Raue.

That New Year’s resolution is now part of your life.