MAKING New Year’s resolutions is tradition, but it has also been a habit for many to break these.
The beginning of the year signals a fresh start and people tend to be optimistic. They make plans to be happier, healthier, more adventurous, and more successful in the next 12 months.
However, good intentions aren’t always enough. After a few weeks or months, the new habits they promised to keep tend to be forgotten.
But researchers have found a way to make New Year’s resolutions that have a better chance of sticking.
Approach vs avoidance
A 2020 study published in the science journal Plos One found that people are more likely to keep resolutions that create or add new behaviors rather than those that require them to erase certain habits or behaviors.
The researchers’ findings were based on a large-scale experiment that recruited participants from the general public and divided them into three groups that received different levels of support. The participants were also asked to rate their success when it comes to keeping their New Year’s resolutions.
“Among the participants who set approach-oriented New Year’s resolutions, 58.9% considered themselves successful, compared to 47.1% of participants who set avoidance-oriented resolutions,” the study said.
This finding indicates that people have a greater chance of success if they seek to create a new habit such as eating more fruits and vegetables, rather than promising to avoid junk food for the rest of the year.
Another example of a potentially successful resolution is to walk more every day, instead of vowing not to spend hours binge-watching TV shows.
The researchers noted that several studies had already reported that approach-oriented goals are more favorable than avoidance-oriented goals, although these mostly concerned academic goals.
“The current study reveals that this may be true for other personal goals, as well—in this case, for New Year’s resolutions,” they said.
In the study, the most popular resolution among the participants had to do with physical health. This was followed by resolutions regarding weight loss, eating habits, personal growth, and mental health or sleep.
Support is important
The experiment also found that people who received some support regarding their New Year’s resolutions were “exclusively and significantly more successful” in adhering to these compared to those who received no support and those who received extended support.
The participants in the most successful group were given brief, general information on New Year’s resolutions, and then additional information about the positive effects of receiving social support when striving toward a personal goal. They also had more frequent follow-ups and were sent an e-mail with information and exercises on how to cope with possible hurdles when striving toward personal goals.
The other groups were given either less or more information than this group.
The researchers said it was more of a surprise that the group that received more support considered themselves less successful in keeping resolutions.
This could be because those who received more support were asked to formulate effective goals, and these were specific and time-framed. Participants with specific resolutions may consider themselves less successful if they had not fully adhered to their pledges.
What does this study indicate? It shows that there is a way for people to actually keep their resolutions.
This means they could turn their January 1 pledges into actual habits, so that they won’t need to make the same promises next year.