Diet, fitness, money: The art of keeping New Year’s resolutions

This week people all over the world are setting themselves up for failure. They will make promises to themselves – and others – that history shows most won’t be able to keep.

Yes, it's the humble New Year's resolution.

More than just buying a gym membership, people need to have a “meaningful goal” behind resolutions to help make them stick.Credit:Stocksy

Many people set them, few achieve them, while others simply opt out and boycott the whole thing. So what do the experts say about setting and achieving lofty goals for 2020? Here is their advice for some of the most common January 1 promises.


Weight loss goals are always popular at this time of year. Monash University associate professor Simone Gibson says the key is to "focus on the behaviour rather than the outcomes".

That might mean limiting yourself to takeaway once a week or getting in the habit of taking lunch to work.

"When people weigh themselves and their whole investment of happiness is whether the scale shows a particular number, weight loss doesn't always work like that. It can be slow or stagnant," Dr Gibson says.

People most often fail to achieve their diet goals because they "don't adequately acknowledge what their triggers are for going back to their old habits".

"A lot of people eat when they're stressed so they need to come up with a management plan and think 'Next time when I'm stressed what will I do?'"

The whole problem with New Year's resolutions, Dr Gibson says, is the fear of failing to make it through the year without making any mistakes. Her advice is simple: don't lose heart because "setbacks are inevitable".

University of NSW social psychologist Lisa Williams agrees, saying people often fail to meet their targets because they don't set them properly.

"One tip is to make sure a New Year's resolution is specific. So rather than [saying] I'm going to become healthy, you might make a specific goal about … a specific type of diet change that you want to make."


If you're reading this after a big night out feeling determined to be sober in 2020, Professor Steve Allsop from Curtin University's National Drug Research Institute warns it won't be an easy journey.

"All of us find it very difficult to change," Dr Allsop says. "You've got to have a good reason and it’s got to be personal."

There are benefits to giving up for a while, he says, but beware the relapse effect.

"Giving your liver a rest is not a bad thing. The problem is people give up for a while then they make up for it."

Lasting change will most likely happen when you're able to stop completely and re-evaluate your choices, instead of simply cutting back.

"If you go out with the same people at the same time at night then the same things are going to happen."

And while it might feel difficult at the time, there are positive rewards when you achieve your goal.

All of us find it very difficult to change. You've got to have a good reason and it’s got to be personal.

"The nature of addiction behaviour is you feel good now and you feel crap tomorrow morning. When you give up, the reverse is true."


Personal trainer and health coach Mike Gostelow says January is the busiest month for his business.  But, more than just buying a gym membership, people need to have a "meaningful goal" behind resolutions to help make them stick.

"If you have something that resonates with you, a deeper 'why' to doing it, it's more likely to be successful," Mr Gostelow says. "Once you set that deeper goal, create some more specific actual steps to make it happen."

Patience is also key because you don't get a six-pack after one gym session, and your ideal fitness routine might become more difficult as the year goes on.

"People tend to quit too early, the first time there's a road block or obstacle they go 'Nah, it's too hard … I'll start again on Monday' but that never happens."

It takes "at least a couple of months" to build new habits around exercise and healthy eating, Mr Gostelow advises.

UNSW social psychologist Dr Williams says accountability is crucial, and suggests announcing your goal to someone else.

"Research has shown that people who set exercise goals and achieve them alongside somebody else, are more likely to achieve that goal. So the tip here is to make your New Year's resolutions more social," Dr Williams says.


The first and most important step to taking control of your finances is creating a budget, financial adviser Chris Allan says.

"Set realistic, achievable goals and work towards them."

From there, the advice is simple: even though the availability of credit is tempting, spend less than what you earn.

"If you earn $100,000 don’t spend $105,000," he says, recommending people aim to have three months worth of gross income set aside in a separate savings or mortgage offset account in case of emergencies.

If you're struggling to keep your money-related New Year's resolution, Mr Allan says to keep the end goal in sight: freedom and independence.

"The earlier people start to understand money and what it can do and they take control of their financial situation, they’ll be far better off in the long-term."

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