Many New Year’s resolutions are broken by the end of January. If that sentence describes you, don’t fret. New Year’s resolutions are hard to keep because we humans—and probably most primates—have brains that are designed for pleasurable sensations and encounters such as eating delicious food, having sex, socializing or mastering a difficult task.

And you probably guessed it—New Year’s resolutions defy your brain’s wiring for pleasure. And when your fun actions stimulate your brain’s hormones of oxytocin and endorphins, you don’t want to stop.

Soon your brain makes neural connections for those experiences that make you feel good. No wonder you don’t want to deprive yourself of your favorite food or activity. Too much restriction feels so horrible that you over-correct by bingeing. And then you resolve to work harder to stop whatever it is that you are trying to fix—and you get trapped in a resolution-restrict-indulge-resolution cycle.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic pill or process that guarantees New Year’s resolutions success, but here are some tips that have worked for the women in my study and for people in general. You will have to experiment to see which ones work for you.

Smart Steps for New Year’s Resolutions Success

1. Evaluate to motivate. Make a list of all the things you’d like to change. Now rate them in both in degree of importance and difficulty. Ask yourself, “How likely am I to do this?”Since health issues are often the most important, you might choose to work on that. Yet, some health-related problems such as losing weight are the toughest ones to address. What should you do?

2. Build in on-going help and support. Get professional guidance immediately. You don’t want that first week at the gym to be your last. The best solutions combine motivation and pleasure. Weight Watchers uses group support and motivation, and they design diets that permit treats. Tell all your family members and friends about your resolutions and ask them to help you—or join you!

Get a buddy. Tell a friend to check in on you—or go with you or speak up when you shop or eat too much. Going it alone courts failure. Or, if you really want to quit smoking, consult a professional and find a support group.

Even if your partner does not want to join you, do it without him or her—at first. Usually, one partner’s new behavior eventually sparks the other person to participate, too. Be careful, though, of the temptation to give up together!

3. Take small steps to train your brain. Rather than make big resolutions, vow to take one small step a day. Allow your brain to get used to going without the pleasure of a cigarette or drink or dessert. In some cases, though, eliminating totally your unwanted behavior works better. Now you can see why resolutions are so complicated! Some people don’t make New Year’s resolutions at all since the resolutions are almost always too big. Instead, truly take it one day, one hour at a time.

4. Know your moods triggers. Get mindful of your feelings and state of mind. Do you feel insecure, lonely or unloved? What have you done in the past to soothe you—drink, eat, shop, for example? Ask yourself: “How am I feeling right now and what would I normally do about it that is not good for me? And what can I do to handle my situation that is good for me?”

5. Start again—and learn. Don’t give up. Get back on that horse, as they say. Giving up old behavior that made you feel less stressed and unhappy is difficult to change. Learn from your setback. Ask yourself, “What triggered my relapse?” When you relapse, which is very common, just start over—and be more vigilant about your triggers. Remember, behavior is a choice.

6. Create rewards to assist your brain to connect pleasure with discipline. A reward might be permission to eat one or two small bites or buy one item under a certain amount—or not buy anything at all! Eventually, your success will become its own reward. Or, create a money jar where you deposit a dollar or all your change every time you stay on course. Or, don’t allow yourself to watch your favorite show or use social media until you complete your task for the day.

7. Be your own buddy and stay positive. Think about your previous success in overcoming your urge to spend, smoke, eat, drink or do any other undesirable behavior. Keep a Success Journal so you can read what you did to recognize and resist the temptation to give in. Say these words out loud: “I know this change is difficult, but I deserve to be healthy and happy.”

Happy Smart New Year!

Author's Bio: 

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, MSS, MA, is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues in love, life, work, and family. Sign up on her website,, to receive free advice, blog, cartoon, and information about her two upcoming research-based, self-help books for women: The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie-a cartoon, self-help book and Smart Relationships. You can follow Dr. Wish on Twitter.