5 Simple Steps to New Year’s Resolution Success

December 28, 2020

“What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” 

- Vern McLellan

New Year’s resolutions—love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re inescapable this time of year.

And even if you hate them, for many they hold an almost mystical appeal. 

The new year gives us a chance to wipe the slate clean—to say goodbye to our heavier, messier, slower selves—and to strive for something better.

The “new car smell” usually fades after a month and our dreams of a shiny new year and better habits are replaced with rationalizations and promises for next year.

And to be sure, stuff does come up—the kids need extra tutoring, the hot water heater falls apart, work blows up, and you find you’re doing two full-time jobs at half the pay.

But just because MOST New Year’s resolutions don’t see the spring, doesn’t mean that YOURS have to fail. 

Here are 5 ways you can set yourself up for success in 2021.


I heard a joke once about how diet and exercise programs always “have to” start on a Monday, so if you screw up on Monday, you get a whole week to eat like crap before you start again.

Do that 50-ish times—which is easier than you think—and before you know it, a year has gone by and you’re still munching on garbage, dreaming of a different body.

New Year’s resolutions follow the same principle. 

January 1 is both an arbitrary marker in the ongoing stream of time we experience year-round, and it FEELS different … because it IS different.

According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, people who set New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their behavior than people who don’t.

And a 10x factor of success seems hard to argue with.

The takeaway? New Year’s resolutions are helpful . . . WHEN they’re done right.

So don’t let an attachment to the “new year” part of the equation mess with your resolve or scare you off from staying the course when things get tough. 

After the initial rush of excitement wears off—when you’re tired, stressed, and pulled in every direction—it will be tempting to drink / eat sugar / smoke / skip the gym ...

Fall off your wagon enough days in a row, and you can feel like a failure.

But as long as you pick your new habit back up again the next day—no matter what the calendar says—you’re winning in the long run.

So don’t get too caught up in doing something for all of 2021 with no mistakes. 

Plan for consistency and don’t expect perfection and it will be MUCH easier to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to your routine again.


Most New Year’s resolutions look something like this:

  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Spend more time with family

Do you see a trend here?

These goals are all incredibly vague. 

They don’t quantify the outcome, which makes using a timer, a stopwatch or a scale to objectively measure whether progress is being made at all practically impossible.

Sure, if you lose ½ a pound you did technically “lose weight” . . . but was that really your ideal outcome?

I’m a huge fan of specific goals that are based in numbers-stated quantities rather than narrative-based outcomes, and measuring progress in increments of time

Because otherwise, how will you know what “get organized?” looks like? 

Does that mean everything is organized, or just the things on your surfaces? Does it mean everything in your home but not your 2 off-site storage lockers?

You can see how elusive these “goals” are when they aren’t quantified.

That’s why you’d be better off committing to 2 hours a week organizing your home, or 30 minutes on the treadmill instead of just aiming to “lose weight.”

And when you’re chunking up your goals, you should make them SMART goals: think specific and measurable, actionable and TIMED.

So returning to our original examples, these are much more specific and easier to measure success:

  • Lose 10 pounds by April—and keep it off through the end of the year
  • Spend 15 minutes per day tidying the house
  • Have a family game night every week from 5-7 p.m. on Fridays


Hopefully, you also noticed that all of the goals listed above have something in common apart from objective measurement: they are VERY achievable.

The third key to New Year’s resolution success is making your goals small enough to be realistic. You want them to be a challenge, sure—but also well within the realm of possibility.

If your goal is “sell 1 million copies of my first book within 3 months of publication” when you’ve never written a word, I applaud your optimism but question how realistic it is that you’ll hit that target.

Likewise, if you’ve struggled with weight loss your whole life, “lose 75 pounds in 120 days” is a very aggressive goal barring surgery.

It may be doable—and to ensure your best shot, break it down into smaller sub-goals that add up to your bigger goal so you get lots of wins along the way to keep you motivated.

So once you hit your first milestone, you can celebrate AND move onto the second. 

Lost 10 pounds by February? If that was more or less than you needed to stay on track, adjust your next goal so you maintain momentum and keep moving forward at a manageable pace.


I’ve written here and here about New Year’s resolutions in the past, and the one factor of success that always recurs is accountability. 

It’s tough to achieve your goals in a vacuum, especially when they’re hard.

A secret goal is much easier to abandon than one you’ve shared with your inner circle.

Set yourself up for success by announcing your goals to family and friends. Even better, get an accountability buddy, and keep track of each other’s progress. 

The right accountability partner will keep you honest, cheer you on and call you on your bullshit when you start making excuses.

Here’s another statistic for you—you are 3 times more likely to achieve your goals when you leverage outside accountability.

So if you that that an accountability buddy isn’t for you, just remember that fake African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

It may be a cliché—but/and it works.


If you can’t connect to a larger reason WHY you’re doing something, you’re unlikely to succeed.

Don’t just “kind of know” your why. Write it down. Refine it until you own it and it owns you.

Keep your reasons top of mind however you like: journal, vision board, affirmation, gratitude lists, notes on the mirror . . . whatever it takes to stay centered in your core and unwavering in your commitment.

Connecting to a larger purpose behind the habit you’re creating will help propel you through the tough times and into the somewhat rarified space of New Year’s resolution success.


Done right, New Year's resolutions can launch you into your next life-changing habit. 

And there are reasons why they usually fail before the snow melts.

Set yourself up for success in 2021 by following 5 simple steps:

  • Don’t get too attached to your start date and perfection
  • Make your goals specific and measurable
  • Start small
  • Stay accountable
  • Understand your “why”

Follow them and you will be that much closer to achieving your goals for 2021.

And if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get organized, the timing is perfect for you to join my 5-Day De-Stress Your Mess Challenge. You’ll start seeing progress the very first day, and learn a few things in the process that will set you up for continued success.
And if you are ready to tackle that book—or other significant project you’ve been putting off—and want some serious accountability to get there in 90 days, check out Your Next BIG Thing. It’s a Mastermind, private coaching group, and an accountability factory all rolled into one.

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!