How to (Finally) Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions in 2023

Jan 06, 2023

Keith’s Note: Welcome to the first Money Talks of 2023! I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

In honor of the New Year, I’m resharing a piece I originally wrote this time last year. It’s about an easy (yet powerful) way to keep your resolutions and achieve your goals in 2023.

Whether you’re new to Money Talks or have been reading since the start, I encourage you to review this strategy and give it a try as you begin your year. (And please let me know how it works for you at [email protected].)

In the meantime, I’d also love to hear if there are any specific Money Talks ideas or topics you’d like me to cover in the months ahead. Just drop me a line at the same address above.

Happy New Year!


It’s that time of year again…

The time when many of us resolve that this will finally be the year that we lose weight, start exercising, stop smoking, get out of debt, or accomplish any number of other important goals.

Of course, I probably don’t have to tell you the odds are against us.

According to various surveys conducted over the years, as many as 80% of people give up their New Year’s resolutions before February. By the end of the year, that number rises well above 90%.

Why is that?

Well, like most folks, you probably blame yourself or your circumstances for these failures.

You may think you lack motivation, willpower, or discipline… or your life is just too hectic to achieve your goals.

Now, these things can certainly play a role. But research on behavior change suggests that most of us actually fail to reach our goals because we’re using the wrong strategy.

In short, we tend to assume that a goal must be BIG – that it must involve dramatic, sweeping changes – to be meaningful.

But the reality is, these kinds of radical goals are problematic for most people. They require vast amounts of willpower and discipline – which are finite resources. And they tend to trigger fear and anxiety, which leads to resistance and procrastination. 

Fortunately, there’s a better alternative.

We can significantly improve our odds of success by replacing this standard approach with one based on incremental improvements.

Said more simply, the trick is to replace big goals with small, easy-to-achieve ones.

And when I say small and easy, I mean really small and really easy

Instead of setting a goal to exercise for 30 minutes a day, you resolve to do one push-up or to march in place for one minute each night while watching TV.

Instead of promising to meditate for an hour each morning, you decide to meditate for one minute – or even one breath – each morning.

Instead of getting up an hour earlier each day, you get up one minute earlier.

Instead of reading 50 pages a day, you read just one page.

Instead of flossing your teeth each night, you floss a single tooth.

You get the idea. If it sounds completely absurd when you say it out loud or write it down, you’re on the right track.

The idea is to make your goals so small and laughably easy that you can’t fail.

This approach is deceptively powerful.

First, super-small and manageable goals don’t trigger fear or anxiety like audacious goals tend to do. And they require virtually no motivation or willpower.

As a result, you’re unlikely to resist or procrastinate. And you can easily accomplish these goals even on your worst, most stressful, busiest days.

This allows you to build a solid base of momentum and consistency necessary for long-term habit formation.

Small goals also help create a pattern of success rather than failure.

You see, change is much easier when you feel good about your actions. Success builds confidence you can use to pursue other goals in the future.

Unfortunately, pursuing a big goal often creates feelings of failure, even when you’re doing well.

For example, suppose you set a big, audacious goal of losing 100 pounds this year.

With this goal, you could lose 50 or even 75 pounds – an impressive feat that would have tremendous health benefits – and still feel like a failure.

Keeping your goals super small allows you to avoid these feelings that often lead to quitting.

Now, you may be thinking, “Sure, I could do one push-up per day. But that isn’t going to improve my health or fitness.”

That’s fair… But that isn’t really the point of this approach. It’s meant to help “rewire” your behavior.

Once a particular behavior has become a habit – which can take a few weeks to several months, depending on the person and the behavior – you can then choose a slightly bigger goal and repeat the process.

In this way, you can easily achieve almost any goal you want.

However, you may not even need to be so deliberate about it. After practicing a small behavior for a few days or weeks, many folks discover they actually enjoy it and begin doing more with no conscious effort.

This approach works well for concrete, physical goals like losing weight or exercising more. But you can apply it to just about any area of your life where you’d like to improve your behavior.

The key is simply to ask the right (small) questions, like “What’s the smallest step I can take to [fill in the blank]?” or “What can I do in five minutes today to [fill in the blank]?”

If you start asking yourself these questions, you may be surprised by what you come up with.

As I’ve explained, simply “thinking small” can dramatically improve your chances of reaching your goals. But a couple of additional tricks can make this approach even more effective.

The first is tying your new behavior to an existing routine or recurring event in your life – what behavior scientists call a “prompt” or “anchor.”

Returning to our previous examples, you might use turning on the TV when you get home as a prompt to do one push-up.

Or you might use brushing your teeth as a prompt to floss one tooth.

The idea here is to connect your small goal to something you already do – or that already occurs – to further reinforce the behavior.

The second trick is celebrating as soon as you complete the new behavior. This can be as simple as saying, “I did it!” or giving yourself a high five in the mirror.

It sounds silly, but these small actions are proven to create positive emotions and reinforce the new behavior.

I should also mention that these same principles can work just as well to eliminate bad habits. You just have to apply them in reverse.

First, you’ll want to make the behavior you’re trying to avoid as big and difficult as possible.

For example, if you want to stop eating junk food or smoking, you could stop keeping snacks or cigarettes in your house.

If you want to spend less time browsing your smartphone during the day, you could keep it in a different room while you work.

Likewise, you’ll also want to identify any prompts that trigger that unwanted behavior and then remove or change them.

Finally, don’t worry or blame yourself if you aren’t successful on your first try.

While this approach is generally easy to follow, it can take some practice to get the hang of it.

When people have trouble, it’s usually due to one or more of three common issues: 

  1. They haven’t made the goal small or easy enough.
  2. They haven’t found the right prompt or anchor.
  3. The goal or behavior is not one they genuinely want to pursue.

If you find yourself struggling, go back through each step and try again with a slightly different goal or prompt.

If you find yourself needing to tap into willpower, that’s also a sign that one or more of these issues may be at play. 

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the science of habits and behavior change, I can recommend several great books.

“Mini Habits” by Stephen Guise and “One Small Step Can Change Your Life” by Robert Maurer are both quick reads with tons of great information.

If you’re looking to go even deeper, “Tiny Habits” by B.J. Fogg and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear are fantastic as well.