How to reach your New Year’s health and wellness goals

Two women exercising on steps
Steps to getting healthy this year

If you are making a resolution this year related to health and wellness, you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone. 

In a recent Forbes survey, 4 of the top 5 New Year’s resolutions were improved fitness, mental health, diet and weight. Less encouraging was that most resolutions lasted under 4 months and 30% of respondents gave up within 2 months. A mere 7% kept to their resolution for the entire year. 

But success is possible, say health and wellness experts from Dartmouth Health. Understanding why you want to achieve your health and wellness goals–—then setting up clear specific, actionable steps toward reaching them–—will help you prevail. 

First, ask why 

To increase your odds of success, begin by asking yourself why your goals matter, says Dartmouth Health’s Employee Wellness Health Coach Heather Wolfe, MPH, RDN, LD, NBC-HWC.

“Many people may say they want to lose weight. But what is the motivation for that change? It will be different for each person. Why do you care about being healthier? You need to spend time exploring the why. Attaching your goals to a strong, specific why anchors them to something personally and powerfully meaningful. When life happens and threatens to derail your goals, remembering you have an anchor will keep you attached to your goal. That’s important,” says Wolfe.

Wolfe also encourages her clients to peel back the layers to get to their core value. For example, exploring why you want to lose weight might reveal you want to be more active. “Then, why do you want to be more active?” asks Wolfe. “Maybe because you are noticing it is becoming harder to get up and down. But why does that matter? Maybe you’d like to play on the floor with your grandchildren. That is what is most important to you.”

Visualize success 

But success is not just about the why. It is also about visualizing what success looks and feels like.

“Imagine your future best self. Crystalize a vision of you at your ideal wellness. When you embody it, it becomes real,” says Wolfe.

Set goals with action-oriented and measurable steps

Back up your goals with measurable and action-oriented steps.

“Recognize where you are starting from. Set 3-month goals that can serve as milestones to help you mark your progress. Ask what action steps you can take along the way to help you move toward that milestone,” she says.

If you fall short one day, resist being critical of yourself. Instead, be patient and reflective. “What was it about that day that got in the way? What can I do differently next time?” asks Wolfe.

Be realistic

Karl Dietrich, MD, a family medicine provider at Cheshire Medical Center, also advises his patients to set goals that can be achieved with measurable and realistic steps. 

“Being honest and realistic with your goals helps you succeed in whatever you strive for—such as enjoying better health and well-being," says Dietrich. "At first, my patients often make resolutions that focus on the end result—completing a 5K, losing 10 pounds, sleeping 8 hours a night—without getting specific about exactly how they will do that. Focus your goals on the habits you want to stick with rather than just the results."

For his patients, Dietrich recommends a SMART goal structure. This structure allows for goals with actionable steps that are:

  • Specific: Well-defined, clear, and unambiguous.
  • Measurable: Make specific criteria to measure your progress.
  • Achievable: Attainable, not impossible.
  • Realistic: Within reach and relevant to your other goals.
  • Timely: A clear starting and target date.

"Setting vague goals like ‘be healthier’ doesn't work well," says Dietrich. "It's hard to tell if you're accomplishing them and people tend to lose momentum. SMART goals are much more effective."

Get support

But even with such an intentional and measurable approach, sticking to your goals can still be tough. Do not be afraid to seek support from those around you. 

A large-scale study of more than 1,000 participants by PLoS One found physical health, weight loss and eating habits to be the 3 most popular New Year’s resolutions. It also found that supported, approach-oriented goals boost the likelihood of success. 

A friend, a loved one, or a health coach all can provide encouragement and support.

Make it easier on yourself

Lastly, don’t make achieving your goals any harder than they need to be. 

"Patients' goals often focus on something they've struggled to do in the past, so it's important to make it easier for yourself to achieve those goals this time," says Dietrich. 

For example, if your resolution relates to diet, what changes can you make so your new healthy habit becomes the easiest option for you to choose? 

“If you want to eat a healthier diet but often eat unhealthy snacks out of convenience, ensure healthy snacks are always easy to grab where and when you usually eat them," he says. 

Additional resources