Home » Blogs » Psychoanalysis Now » How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions

How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions

On the whole, people don’t keep their New Year’s Resolutions. They make them in all earnestness, but then as time passes they lapse back into the usual routine, which calls for breaking the resolutions. They will come up with many good reasons for breaking the resolutions.

Here are some ways to help you keep the resolutions you make. It doesn’t matter what the resolutions are. You may resolve to stop smoking, to pay the rent on time, or to stop conversing with friends who only want to talk about themselves and aren’t interested in you except as a listener. Whatever the resolution, there are surefire ways to keep them.


Draw up a contract that makes it mandatory for you to keep the resolution and sets forth consequences if you don’t keep it. The contract might read: “The undersigned resolves to stop smoking during the next year. He may use whatever method he chooses: a self-help group, a behavioral therapist who uses hypnosis, a therapist who uses systematic desensitization, or self-will. He must completely stop by the end of the year or pay the following penalty to his friend, Mary Smackdown. The agreed-upon penalty will be $1,000.” The idea of paying the $1,000 penalty to Mary Smackdown will be painful because she is sure to gloat and he will become a loser.

This method makes it impossible for you to break the resolution without paying a penalty, which almost guarantees you will keep it. It involves using a friend or relative who you can trust and making them part of the contract. People want to win. Keeping the resolution is winning. And the penalty ensures you will win, despite the character issues that tempt you to lapse into the previous pattern.


Let’s say you want to stop smoking. Don’t just make a resolution on a whim. Take the resolution seriously, as you would any important decision. Do research on the harmfulness of smoking. Study the charts, statistics, and risk factors of smoking. Denial makes us discount all these scientific facts, but immersing ourselves in the facts helps to undermine denial. It grounds us in reality.

Meditate about the consequences of smoking. Visualize smoking and the black tar lining your lungs each time you smoke. Visualize the tar causing your lungs to work improperly, just like a drain pipe works improperly when it’s clogged. Visualize yourself after 20, 30 or 40 years of smoking, and all the damage you will have done not only to your lungs but to other vital organs, especially your heart. Smoking is one of the big risk factors for heart disease. Smoking is injecting a toxin into your body on a regular basis. Yes, it makes you relax when you do this, but there are other, more healthy ways to relax. The more you buy in to a resolution, the more likely you’ll keep it.


Often people make unrealistic resolutions. “I resolve to make a million dollars by the end of the year.” “I resolve to convince John to marry me by the end of the year.” “I resolve to change the world by the end of the year.” “I resolve to conquer the universe by the end of the year.”

These are fine resolutions but they may be hard, if not impossible, to keep. One way to make them easier to keep is to make resolutions that take into consideration your character flaws. “I resolve that this year I am going to think before I speak, to the extent that I can.” This resolution adds the phrase, “to the extent that I can,” in recognition that you are human and you may have lapses. So you will think before you speak more than you did last year, but not all of the time. No one is perfect. You are bound to have times when you don’t think before you speak, so give yourself some slack.

Some people are hard on themselves. In their minds, either they do something completely or they are a complete failure and hence they give up. For such people, developing a rational ego helps. A rational ego keeps it real. If you start putting yourself down, “Why did you say that without thinking? You made a resolution to think before you speak. What’s wrong with you?” The rational ego steps in and says, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re a human being. You have a character flaw that you were either born with or you were conditioned to have along the way. Putting yourself down doesn’t help. Do the best that you can, and accept your shortcomings. Then you will slowly improve.”

How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2018). How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2018, from


Last updated: 1 Jan 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Jan 2018
Published on All rights reserved.