Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Are your 2022 resolutions crumbling along with your favorite Chinese New Year cookies?
Well, you’re not alone. Research has shown that two-thirds (or 64%) of people abandon their New Year's resolutions within a month (1). And if there’s anything Covid has taught us, it's that it’s pretty darn hard for things to go according to plan.
But we can’t keep allowing setbacks and uncontrollable circumstances to dictate our lives. Instead of being at mercy of our resolutions, we should take back our power in living our best lives. And according to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, New Year's resolutions still play an enormous role in successful behavior change (2).
Therefore, we need to understand the science of behavior change, identify any shortcomings, and cultivate strategies to keep us on track. Ultimately, we still deserve to become better versions of ourselves.
New Year’s Resolutions 101: Problems and Solutions
The New Year marks a fresh start for many. This reset button makes a great opportunity to establish new rituals that will help us grow physically, psychologically, intellectually, financially, and socially. But oftentimes, resolutions are much easier to make than to keep. Let’s figure out why, and how we can resolve them.
Problem #1: Lack of realistic goals
Because the New Year feels like a clean slate, we tend to overestimate ourselves by resetting EVERY single aspect of our lives. People either try to change everything at once or start with a change that is too drastic.
Solution: Choose ONE specific goal
Behavior change researchers at Hertfordshire University recommend focusing on one goal at a time (3). Rather than spreading yourself too thin among a few different goals, making one a priority increases your chances of success.
Additionally, you can also anchor yourself to something called a keystone habit. According to author James Clear, a keystone habit acts as an anchor for other positive habits (4). For example, a singular habit of going to the gym creates a ripple effect in other areas of your life. Not only do you get the benefits of working out, but you also enjoy other secondary benefits such as better focus at work and better sleep at night.
Problem #2: Lack of structure
People often fail to map out what it will take to accomplish a goal. Instead, they rely on the temporary excitement of the new year. As a result, they lose ground due to the absence of structure and planning.
Solution: Create a detailed action plan
Humans are driven by the feeling of mastery. Therefore, an action plan which links the long-term outcome with short-term milestones will ensure success.
Apart from setting SMART goals, experts also suggest brainstorming how you will tackle any challenges that may arise (5). By breaking down the goal and its potential challenges, we’re more likely to continue when setbacks occur.
Researchers from the University of Scranton found that people who are successful at sticking to their long-term resolutions tend to fall off-track at least 14 times (6). However, 71% of their participants said overcoming their slip-ups strengthened their desire to reach their goals.
Problem #3: Lack of accountability
Accountability, to ourselves and others, is an important tool for making and breaking habits. We perform better when someone is watching, even if that person is ourselves.
Solution: Social and personal accountability
Social accountability has been scientifically proven to be effective. In a 2018 weight-loss program study, participants with buddies lost more weight and waist inches than those without buddy support (7). Hence, we highly recommend enlisting the help of others by joining a group that shares your goal.
Alternatively, personal accountability and self-monitoring are also key elements for long-term discipline. Whether you use an app or a journal, it’s valuable to track your progress, thoughts, and behavior patterns. This gives you a better understanding of what is causing you to falter and how to cope effectively.
For instance, a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that fitness apps motivate people to get more exercise (8). Apparently, tracking activity levels and patterns help people overcome perceived barriers to exercise.
Setbacks in your New Year’s Resolutions don’t mean you’re a total failure. Remember that growth is never linear. And goals often take more time to fruition than we give them.
So learn to embrace the journey and all its challenges. Trust that even if you make a mistake or two, you can find your way back onto your path. Ultimately, if you’re prepared for the reality of the challenge, you can definitely make your resolution stick this year!
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