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Keeping those New Year’s resolutions

Keeping those New Year’s resolutions
Jan 20 2022

Ah, January… Humanity’s reset button. Just like Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the sound of a bell, the “ringing” in of January 1 signals a desire in many of us to start the year out fresh with new healthy habits. During #DryJanuary, we stop drinking to reset our livers. We give our lungs a breath of fresh air by quitting smoking and doing cardio. We try new diets and finally get on that expensive stationary bike to shed the extra weight of the previous year. We decide enough is enough with substance abuse. Congratulations for hitting that button! Yay, humans!

So… how are those resolutions going? Great? Great! Not so great? You’re not alone.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that most people abandon their resolutions within the first month. And our top excuse? According to clinical psychologist, Joseph Luciani Ph.D., the stress that comes with changing our habits sabotages our efforts.

But there’s hope. Many experts agree our success in sticking to our resolutions can depend on how we pursue them. Here are six ways to help you be successful.

1. Know why you are picking a specific goal. Add up the pros and cons. If the positive aspects of changing the behavior outnumber the negative, you can really get behind making the change because changing becomes more advantageous than not. It’s also helpful to look at what you’re afraid of missing out on if you make the change (perhaps a “con” you listed). For example, if you are quitting drinking, you might think your social life will suffer. Instead of focusing on the not drinking part of social gatherings, think of the other parts of socializing that you can still enjoy: food, conversations, games, activities, mocktails. You can also change it up with your friends: choose activities that do not typically involve drinking – like yoga, hiking, getting coffee – and do that with them instead.         

2. Make a plan for success! Whatever your goal is, schedule it on a calendar (or pencil in replacement activities if you are quitting something), and act as if it’s just as important as a work meeting or a doctor’s appointment – because it is. Make your environment amenable to your new reality: If you’re quitting something, get rid of the thing and the equipment associated with it. If you are starting something, surround yourself with the tools necessary for success. Research your goal. Learn about it. Be your own personal assistant by planning ahead to make your goal easier to achieve. For example, if the goal is to eat healthy and exercise, the night before, set out your workout clothes, pack a healthy lunch and fill your water bottle. When you wake up, it’ll feel like someone is helping you, then give yourself a hug for loving yourself – the hallmark of a happy, effective person.            

3. Shout it out to the world! (Or a friend… that works too…) When you decide to make the leap, it’s good for others to know so that they can “keep you honest.” Not only will they try to keep you on track if you’re thinking about ditching your goal; showing that you are accountable to your goal invites a private cheering squad you might never knew existed.

4. Be nice to yourself. Pat yourself on the back for making a change. Celebrate your successes – big or small. Goals are often achieved through incremental changes. You can’t run a marathon without training. To reach the 26-mile goal, you need to take the first step. If that’s all you can muster in one day, at least you’re one step closer than you were yesterday. Celebrate it. Condemning yourself for not “getting to the finish line” before you’re ready is a great way to talk yourself into never reaching it.  

5. Turn stopping into starting. According to researchers at Stockholm University, people tend to be less successful at quitting a habit (like smoking) and more successful at starting a habit (like exercising). A way around this is to reframe your mindset: figure out how quitting an unhealthy habit is a way to start a healthy one (thus, negating the unhealthy one). For example, if you want to quit smoking, and you tend to smoke on your break, walk on a treadmill instead so that you are spending your smoking time doing exercise. Natural endorphins, the “feel-good chemicals” released from exercise, are known to reduce stress, depression and anxiety – three key contributors to chemical dependency. The main idea behind this approach is to replace an unhealthy habit with a healthy one.

6. Setbacks are not the end of the world (nor the end of your goal). If you momentarily quit your resolution, think of it as a lesson and learn from it. You took a drag, then immediately snuffed it out? Good. You didn’t smoke the whole thing. You ate a bite of a doughnut, then gave the rest to a co-worker? It’s OK. You’ll do better next time. Give yourself a break and figure out what happened. What circumstance made you go back to the habit? Was the goal too big? Can you break it into smaller parts? Understanding the lapse can make you stronger for the next temptation to quit. Don’t forget: with every setback, there is a new beginning – and we know how much humans like new beginnings… Happy New Year!    

But Clifford Feldman, MD, medical director, Della Martin Center, Huntington Hospital, makes a good point about resolutions and substance abuse: “You don’t have to wait for New Year’s.” And you don’t have to do it alone. If you are struggling with chemical dependency, the Della Martin Center provides inpatient and outpatient mental health services and chemical dependency recovery services. Its trauma-informed, person-centered, recovery-oriented framework creates personalized treatment plans for each individual. “If you are serious about sobriety, get help today. The help is there; don’t wait,” Dr. Feldman urges.

Patricia Sanchez, MSN, RN, manager, psychiatric services, Della Martin Center, agrees: “Our outpatient mental health programs are a perfect starting point for substance abuse recovery and mental health or maternal mental health concerns,” Patricia explains. “Our team is always here as a resource for those in our community.”

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Best of luck with your goals. Huntington is rooting for you!


Andersson, G., Carlbring, P., Oscarsson, M. & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals, PLOS ONE, December 2020,

Dickson, J., Dodd, A., Huntley, C., Moberly, N. & Preece, D. (2021). Self-Regulatory Goal Motivational Processes in Sustained New Year Resolution Pursuit and Mental Wellbeing, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, March 2021,

Luciani, J. (2015). Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail, U.S. News & World Report, December 2015,

Harvard Medical School. (2020). Seven steps for making your New Year’s resolutions stick, Harvard Health Publishing, November 2020,