The Most Common New Year’s Resolution Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

At the start of each year, people worldwide are asking themselves the same question: “How do I keep my New Year's resolutions?“

If you’re wondering what the difference is between people who stick to their resolutions and those who don’t, keep in mind that it’s not about willpower or motivation. It’s about creating the right habits.

But why is it so hard to stay consistent? In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear identifies the most common mistakes people make while developing new behaviors and offers solutions to prevent slip-ups.

Mistake #1: Not knowing what’s driving you to make a change

Developing habits is much more than saying you want something to happen. If you clearly define what you want and understand why you want it in the first place, your odds of success will increase.


  • Find your “why”. Think about why developing a new habit is worth your time and effort. How will it improve your life? Be specific. For example, is quitting smoking going to help you become more active and enjoy something like hiking in a way that you weren’t able to before?

  • Write down your resolutions. The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible.

Mistake #2: Starting multiple habits at once

Every habit consists of three components: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue is a trigger that reminds you to perform a habit, a routine is an action you do, and the reward is the payoff you get. The more you repeat a behavior, the more automatic it becomes.

While the process might sound simple, creating habits can take a lot of mental energy, especially in the beginning. You can save mental energy by focusing on creating one habit at a time.


  • Pick a keystone habit. A keystone habit is a routine that pulls the rest of your life in line.

For example, by choosing regular exercise as your keystone habit, other areas of your life might improve. You might start eating healthier. Or sleeping better and waking up with more energy. Keystone habits create a domino effect and reprogram other routines.

Mistake #3: Starting too big

The most challenging part of developing a habit is starting the behavior.

For example, it's not easy to do a 30-minute workout session every morning, but it's easier to do ten pushups.

The idea is to start small and make your new habits non-threatening. That way, it's more likely you'll follow through.


  • Use the Two- Minute Rule

The Two-Minute Rule states that a new habit should take less than two minutes to complete. It’s supposed to be so easy that you'll perform your new behavior even when it's not convenient. Once it becomes a routine, you can scale it up.

Mistake #4: Not scheduling habits into your life

If you make a specific plan for when and where you’ll perform a habit, it’s more likely you’ll succeed. There are two main options for making this happen.


  • Put the desired behavior in your calendar and tie it to a specific time. For example, Gym: 6 PM every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

  • Use the habit stacking technique. The essence of habit stacking is to identify a current habit you already have and then stack your new behavior on top. For example: After I drink my morning coffee, I will do 10 push-ups.

It’s essential to stick to your schedule, even if it’s only in a small way.

Let’s say that you don’t have the energy to do 10 push-ups on a particular morning. In that case, do only one. It might seem insignificant, but the cumulative impact of always sticking to your schedule can carry you to long-term success.

Plan Your Success

In one study, researchers found that the implementation intentions impact exercise behavior. Implementation intentions are specific behavior plans.

The researchers worked with 248 people to build better exercise habits over the course of two weeks. They divided the subjects into three groups:

1) Participants in the first group were asked to track their workouts.

2) Participants in the second group were asked not only to track their workouts but also to read material on the benefits of exercise.

3) Participants in the third group received the same instructions as the second group, but they were also asked to plan when and where they would exercise.

In the first and second groups, 35 to 38% of people exercised at least once a week.

In the third group, 91% of people exercised at least once a week.

Creating a plan for when and where you will actualize your new habit increases the odds you'll follow through.

Mistake #5: Not optimizing your environment

The cue is a trigger that reminds you to perform a habit. While you can be triggered by time, location, preceding events, emotional state, or other people, one of the more powerful triggers is called a “visual cue”.

If you don't create a visual cue, you risk relying on motivation or willpower to start the behavior. And, some days, you won't feel inspired. That's why it's important to rely on something consistent.


  • Identify your triggers and make them tangible.

For example: If you want to exercise before heading to work, pack your gym clothes the night before and place the bag in the middle of your bedroom.

  • Eliminate the things that take you off track. If you make a slip-up, take a step back and think about what took you off course. What happened before?

Maybe you had a hectic morning and didn’t have breakfast. You felt dizzy and hungry, so you missed your workout. Next time, prepare some healthy snacks and always keep them on your kitchen counter.

Mistake #6: Not having an accountability partner

Imagine you’re a professional athlete. What happens when you have teammates and coaches expecting you to be at practice? You show up.