How to Set Effective New Year's Resolutions: A Research-Based Guide
It’s New Year’s resolution time. The new year brings a sense of promise, motivation and anticipation for positive change.
As the calendar turns to January, roughly half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions – personal goals aimed at self-improvement spanning health, relationships, career, finances, new skills and more in the upcoming year.
Yet by mid-February the vast majority have fallen off the resolution wagon.
In this article, you’ll discover the major pitfalls that derail most New Year’s resolutions, the Research-Backed Principles that improve resolution sucess, and how to apply those very principles to your new year’s resolution ideas.
Read on and realize your New Year’s resolutions this year.
Why Do So Many Resolutions Fail?
Studies suggest around 50 percent of New Year’s resolutions fall apart within the first two months, and over 805 on the long haul.
What causes so many ambitious January intentions to go up in smoke by February or March?
Overall Failure Rate of New Year’s Resolutions
Why do so Many Resolutions Fizzle?
New Year’s resolutions often start with the best of intentions, but too frequently they fizzle out quickly. Let’s examine the primary culprits that sabotage our resolutions so we can intentionally sidestep these pitfalls. Being aware of what typically deflates ambitions empowers you to engineer strategies resilient to these common failure points.
Being mindful of their sabotaging effect allows customizing strategies resistant to their influence. We can still dream big for the new year AND engineer plans primed for achievement.
Taking on Too Much Too Fast
The fresh inspiration of a new year motivates big visions for life change at a pace that’s difficult to sustain once everyday realities set back in.
Extreme ambitions like losing 50 pounds, training for marathons or starting a completely new diet plan fuel the desire for sweeping transformation but often prove too drastic to stick to in the long run.
Lacking Specificity & Strategies
Turning lofty dreams into reality requires moving from the abstract to concrete. Yet many resolutions like “get fit”, “find love”, “save money” or “lose some weight” lack specificity on tangible objectives and plans to manifest them through daily actions.
We fall into thinking good intentions are enough without mapping how to bridge the gap from Point A of today’s reality to Point B of the desired future state. Whether it comes to physical health, personal life, improved finances, or improved mental health, your New Year’s resolution needs to be specific and have a realistic plan to achieve it.
Copycatting Rather Than Customizing
In setting New Year’s resolutions, we often blindly emulate friends, celebrities, social media influencers or stated industry trends rather than objectively assessing the unique fit for our personalities, interests, abilities and lifestyles.
At the Healthy Behavior Institute, we train fitness professionals on the importance of customized strategies when helping clients achieve goals around weight loss, stress management, health enhancement or performance acceleration.
Our coaches learn to avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach, instead guiding clients through a thorough self-assessment process taking stock of their unique personalities, preferences and resources. This fuels creating tailored programs aligned with both client objectives and lifestyle capacity versus blindly copying the regimen their friend followed or celebrity endorsed.
Without this type of training, we fall into the trap of mimicking what worked for others rather than rigorously examining what is realistic and sustainable given our individual constraints.
For example, deciding to adopt the same intense fitness regimen as a friend who is a gym fanatic and personal trainer – despite having a far more demanding work schedule, three young kids at home, tight finances and a history of shin splints. Odds are high this copied resolution will flame out once the complex realities of everyday obligations set in.
One size rarely fits all when it comes to effectively achieving goals. An approach that accelerated positive change for someone else may be wholly incompatible given a different set of circumstances or personality preferences. A social media influencer’s daily two-hour yoga and smoothie ritual might fuel #lifegoals content yet be impossible for a single mom with rigid full-time work hours.
Beyond just differences in life logistics, interests and temperament also impact the sustainability of copied resolutions.
Failure stems from adopting rather than adapting strategies to align with the unique terrain of our lives. Dumping the specified ingredients of someone else’s new year’s resolution success into the bowl of your existence absent modifications typically yields disappointment. We set ourselves up for deflated ambitions by not taking the time to rigorously assess fit.
The antidote is objectively taking inventory of your individual abilities, interests, resources and constraints first when setting New Year’s resolutions.
Make sure adopted goals and connected tactics are right-sized to your real lifestyle capacity after a candid self-assessment rather than social comparison. Achievement flows from adapting ambitions and methods to play to your unique strengths while acknowledging limitations.
Know Your Unique Support Needs
New Year’s resolutions are often solo ventures lacking input, accountability and support from others. Research shows that guidance and accountability dramatically increase the likelihood of achieving goals. In a study of over 1,700 participants, having social support for a weight loss goal doubled success rates compared to those attempting it alone (Kiernan et al., 2012).
It’s important to remember that even superstar athletes like Patrick Mahomes have a coach to provide expert guidance, constructive feedback, and motivation to stay the course when determination lags.
With no one around to lend expertise, encouragement or corrections when obstacles arise, it’s easy to slide back into old habits without realizing it and abandon improvement aims (Ammerlaan et al., 2022).
Trying to achieve a major new year’s resolution alone is like navigating unfamiliar terrain without a map, compass or hiking buddy to help steer straight when challenges emerge.
Lacking outside perspective increases vulnerability to old patterns sabotaging progress (Harkin et al., 2016). Devoid of accountability and inspiration from others who have walked a similar path, isolation fuels excuses that downplay backslides until too much ground is lost to recover resolution momentum.
Research-Backed Principles for Resolution Success
The good news is that while a majority of resolutions see the graveyard by mid-February, studies reveal approaches that dramatically boost the likelihood of sustaining positive change. These include:
Minimal Effective Dose Over Maximal Effort
Science confirms that for most goals, smaller, gentler steps in the right direction better fuel long-term change than dramatic overnight overhauls. This “minimal effective dose” principle encourages you to start with the least level of effort needed to spur positive momentum and then scale up change gradually as new habits solidify.
Research shows that incremental progress through tiny sustainable actions beats radical transformations attempted through intense bursts that prove unsustainable (Clear, 2018). Gradual escalation allows building capacity and skill mastery over time versus harsh rapid changes provoking overwhelm and then backsliding.
Studies on habit formation indicate frequency trumps intensity early on, with daily repetition key to cementing behaviors so they become automatic versus taxing (Lally et al., 2010).
The minimal effective dose principle removes the intimidation factor from major change by chunking larger ambitions down into manageable bite-sized actions. For example, finishing a daunting 500-page book can become achievable by starting with a commitment to read just 1 page per day rather than attempting to power through 50 pages upon starting. The emphasis is on establishing consistency first through the tiniest repeatable actions that accumulate exponential results over time.
This less is more approach applies to common New Year’s resolutions like losing weight, getting fit, or eating healthier.
Radically altering lifelong habits through intense diets, daily two-hour workouts or extreme calorie cuts often lasts mere weeks before defaulting back to previous habits.
Minimal effective dose strategies like slightly reducing portion sizes, starting a gentle 10-minute daily walking routine or substituting one sugary beverage per day with water are easier to sustain. Scaled effort prevents the burnout and deprivation that cause drastic changes to eventually implode.
Keep Your Eyes on the Small Milestones
The core lesson is that durable self-improvement stems from incremental progress fueled by small, doable actions practiced consistently.
Sustainable change adopts the pace of the tortoise, not the hare. Start where you are able then build slowly versus attempting giant leaps likely to end in discouragement. Compound interest powers lasting results.
Everybody Needs Support
The encouragement of a coach, mentor or community that has your back on the resolution journey can make all the difference. These guides provide expert input mapping pathways aligned with your goals. They help calibrate the course when obstacles like bad habits, negative thought patterns or cravings threaten staying true to intentions.
Shared accountability promotes sticking to the plan when motivation dips. And hearing from others further down the road provides living proof attaining your resolutions is possible.
Supplemental support provides an essential edge when doing the daily work of turning heartfelt goals into reality. Whether a nutritionist coaching better eating habits, a trainer optimizing workout regimens or a group sharing the universal ups and downs of growth, outside wisdom powers resilience.
Even masters like Brady lean on their team of coaches, trainers and psychologists to amplify and maximize performance, especially amidst difficulties.
Humans are wired for collaboration – why would achieving new year’s resolutions be any different?
The key is being intentional upfront in establishing your “resolution squad.”
Identify allies able to provide tailored guidance aligned with your goals versus generic input. A workout plan to run faster needs a running coach versus vague tips from a casual gym buddy. Detailed dietary guidance to control diabetes works better than general healthy eating tips.
Seek those coaches and experts who have relevant experience and interest in your success with wisdom to impart at pivotal moments on your journey. With the right team behind you, no New Year’s resolution lies beyond reach!
Goodness of Fit Fuels Follow Through
There is no universally superior path to achieving aspirational New Year’s resolutions. What accelerates positive change is channeling goals through strategies specially aligned with your individual personality, preferences, abilities and means. Customization fosters engagement, enjoyment and proactive progress that is crucial to New Year’s resolution success.
Research shows that when people pursue intrinsic goals that fit their values and interests, they are more likely to sustain motivation and effort over time (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Additionally, setting specific, achievable goals tailored to one’s circumstances and capabilities leads to greater goal attainment compared to vague or overly ambitious goals (Locke & Latham, 2002). For example, if exercising more is your resolution, defining a concrete weekly workout schedule suited to your fitness level and schedule makes the goal more manageable.
The process of personalizing goals to align with internal motivations and external realities promotes more ownership over the change process and cultivates vital self-regulatory skills for overcoming obstacles (Mann et al., 2013). It also helps buffer against the comparison mindset that often diminishes motivation when unfairly evaluating one’s progress against others. Overall, customized goal setting boosts people’s belief in their abilities while supporting basic needs for autonomy and competence that drive sustained effort over the long-haul (Ryan & Deci, 2017).
Concrete Steps to Craft Lasting Resolutions
Armed with insights on why resolutions fail and science-backed alternatives, how can we apply these lessons to setting resolutions that are powered to cross the finish line instead of fizzling by February? Here are some steps you can take to achieve your New Year’s resolutions:
Define Your Destination
Begin by getting clear on the specific destination. In our 360 Wellness Coaching program, client and coach spend a good of time on goal clarification. Rather than vague goals like “lose weight” or “get healthier”, we define tangible finish lines like “losing 15 pounds” or “walk a flight of stairs without getting winded.”
Clarifying your goal defines success for you and will have you on the path to progress.
Applying the minimal effective dose can lead to tangible progress while minimizing disruption to your daily routine..
Having defined larger objectives, break them down into tiny buildable steps leveraging the minimal effective dose principle. Target subtle rather than extreme changes initially. For example, losing 15 pounds can start with shedding 1 pound through slight daily calorie deficits.
Build Your Rituals
Plot how to translate desired change into sustainable daily actions until they become habitual rituals. Losing weight needs to transition from motivation (“I want to lose 15 pounds”) to making adjustments automatic (like taking daily walks or swapping out unhealthy snacks). Leverage phone alerts, post-it note reminders or whatever it takes to cement actions into daily flow.
Seek Guidance & Accountability
As we mentioned earlier, everybody, even top tier athletes and professionals, does better with support.
On your New Year’s resolution efforts, consider connecting with a professional coach, online community or accountability partner aligned to your resolutions. They can provide expertise, cheerlead wins, offer course corrections when needed and help overcome motivational obstacles when everyday excuses arise. Shared wisdom powers change.
Stay True to You
Stemming from the Goodness of Fit recommendation, it’s important that you assess how your personality, interests, abilities and obligations intersect with resolutions to uncover customized pathways aligned to your life versus blindly following friends or influencers. Yes, this takes more time and thought than simply wishing for New Year’s resolutions to become reality, but the time invested in this self-assessment dramatically increases efficacy later on.
Inventory your daily habits, temperament, financial situation, family demands, learning style and any other life factors shaping available time and resources. Compare these realities against requirements of considered resolutions to gauge compatibility.
If you despise cooking, lack budget for expensive ingredients and have four kids needing nightly shuttling to activities, attempting a daily from-scratch paleo meal plan will likely flame out despite best intentions.
If you dread solo workouts, thrive on variety and community in group settings and enjoy friendly competitions, a home gym-focused resolution with only weights and a mirror as company poses motivational challenges. Even factoring in more subtle aspects like whether you are a visual, auditory or hands-on learner can help inform effective strategies.
This upfront discernment isn’t about limiting possibilities but rather engineering customized conditions that empower success. The goal is mapping resolutions to your unique vehicle – your abilities, resources and preferences – to transport you seamlessly toward your desired destination. Misalignment sets the stage for friction, detours and potential abandonment.
While investing time assessing yourself against possible resolutions may feel tedious, it prevents the far more frustrating experience of big dreams derailed by lack of fit later on. And some reflection may uncover surprising alignments that feel effortless to sustain thanks to leveraging existing affinities. Channel objectives through what inherently moves you while accounting for restrictions needing navigation. Resolution success rests on compatibility.
This follows from the recommendation to keep your eyes on the small milestones. Leverage apps and data to monitor behaviors related to resolutions, setting up alerts and reminders that keep attention focused day after day.
Seeing progress fuels motivation to stay true to new rituals when old habits creep back.
Review data weekly to celebrate small wins and fine-tune strategies as needed.
Adjusting as Needed
Progress rarely moves in perfect straight lines.
Expect occasional setbacks and be willing to tweak strategies when needed to reclaim momentum.
Stay nimble versus rigid to sustain resolutions for the long haul. Life rewards perseverance.
New Year’s Success Starts with You
The capacity to set New Year’s resolutions offering transformative life change sits within everyone’s grasp by simply shifting approaches. Commit to intentional design aligned with research-backed principles, engage customized pathways tailored to your life, tap guidance to power through obstacles and savor small daily wins.
Rather than leave destiny to faded motivation as spring approaches, purposefully engineer resolutions resilient to failure. Construct your personal improvement goals upon the science-validated building blocks we’ve covered like the minimal effective dose principle. Plot tiny, realistic actions you can convert into daily habits over time versus giant leaps prone to instability.
Once you’ve defined and clarified your goals, avoid the common pitfall of forcing someone else’s path that fails to resonate. Hire a coach or do the self-reflection to understand needs and identify methods uniquely aligned with your abilities and interests to power intrinsic motivation. Enlist support from those who can provide expert counsel as challenges emerge versus weathering the resolution journey solo.
Progress will still entail bumps and setbacks because behavior change is never linear. But intentional engineering allows course correcting with agility versus abandonment.
You can reboot momentum after expected stumbles when operating from a foundation of customized strategies versus rigid unrealistic expectations. Break big goals into mile markers and celebrate small wins that actualize bigger dreams over time.
New Year’s Resolution Success is Possible
The delusion is that New Year’s resolutions require superhuman willpower or dramatic deprivation from January 1st.
The reality is creating solid structures that channel your New Year’s resolutions through deliberate daily progress toward aligning actions with goals. Sustained achievement stands rooted in self-awareness, tailored tactics and resilience aided by support. Here’s to empowering resolutions achieved on your unique terms this year!
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Kiernan, M., Moore, S.D., Schoffman, D.E., Lee, K., King, A.C., Taylor, C.B., Kiernan, N.E. and Perri, M.G., 2012. Social support for healthy behaviors: scale psychometrics and prediction of weight loss among women in a behavioral program. Obesity, 20(4), pp.756-764.
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