It’s once again that time of year. What is your New Year’s resolution? is now being asked of you by friends, family, and coworkers after champagne bottles and party balls have been popped.
Some people adore the custom of making a resolution every January 1. Others claim it’s a waste of effort because by mid-March, most resolutions have already failed. Despite the depressing statistics, there is a rationale to joining the New Year’s resolution trend.
My colleagues and I have proved that you are especially driven to work toward your goals on days that signal new beginnings, such as New Year’s Day, your birthday, and even Mondays, because you feel like you can put the past behind you.
You may have intended to stop smoking, get in shape, or start going to bed at a respectable hour last year but failed to do so. With the beginning of a new year, you can put those mistakes behind you and promise yourself that the new you will be better.
It may sound naive, but the ability to move past failures and start again is actually incredibly useful. After all, you can’t achieve anything if you don’t try, and many worthwhile objectives can be challenging to achieve the first time.
Behavioral scientists have uncovered a variety of strategies that can help you increase the likelihood that you will keep your 2023 New Year’s resolution. These strategies work best if you’ve selected a specific, manageable aim. That means you should make specific objectives instead of general ones like “I’ll exercise more,” like “I’ll work out four times a week.”
Here are my top five scientific pointers from my book “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” for keeping your resolutions.
5. Create a cue-based strategy.
According to study, include a cue in your strategy can help you recall when to act, much as cues inform Broadway performers when to enter the stage. Include specifics about how and where you’ll follow through.
It would be too ambiguous to say, “I’ll meditate on weekdays,” if your New Year’s pledge is to meditate five days per week. However, a cue-based strategy such as “I’ll meditate at work on weekdays during my lunch break” would be appropriate.
Planning when and where you’ll carry out your resolution helps you remember it when the time is right and makes you feel guilty if you forget. (Creating a digital reminder and adding your plan on the calendar wouldn’t hurt either.) Planning in detail can also help you recognize and avoid potential pitfalls, so if you intend to meditate over lunch, you’ll be sure to turn down an offered lunch meeting.
4. Take a look at a penalty clause
Although it may sound evil, making sure you’ll pay a price if you don’t keep your New Year’s resolutions can be really effective.
One simple approach to do this is to inform a few people what your objective is so that you’ll feel guilty if they check back later and discover you haven’t achieved it. (Informing all of your social media followers would make it even riskier.)
Putting real money on the line is a worse punishment than embarrassment, and there is strong evidence that achievement is motivated by self-imposed economic penalties. You and a friend can wager on whether you’ll keep your New Year’s resolution or lose money.
In contrast, technology can be useful. Websites like StickK.com and Beeminder.com offer you to stake money that, if you don’t meet a target, you’ll have to give to charity. Just designate a referee and decide what is at risk.
Simple logic explains why this is effective. We make judgments based on incentives, and punishments are even more persuasive than rewards. We’re used to having outside parties (governments, health insurance providers, neighborhood organizations) penalize us for our mistakes, but this time you’re fining yourself.
3. Make it enjoyable
When it comes to reaching our objectives, the majority of us aim for effectiveness. You believe that a rigorous workout will be the key to seeing quick results if you want to get fit.
You assume that lengthy, distraction-free study sessions are essential if you want to ace a class. However, studies have shown that concentrating on efficiency might leave you high and dry since you’ll overlook an even more crucial factor: if you love the act of pursuing goals.
If studying or working out is not enjoyable, you probably won’t stick with it. But according to research, you’ll persevere longer if you enjoy your exercises or study sessions. And in the end, that’s usually what’s most important for making a resolution.
Combining a goal with a guilty pleasure can help make something that might otherwise feel like a job more enjoyable to work toward. This is what I mean by “temptation bundling.” If you want to start looking forward to your workouts, consider just allowing yourself to watch your favorite TV show there. Or restricting yourself to mocha lattes exclusively during study periods to provide a motivation to visit the library. My personal study demonstrates that temptation bundling can help you stick to your New Year’s commitment when you might otherwise give up.
2. Consider emergencies.
If you stray even slightly from your New Year’s resolution, your first inclination could be to give up and label yourself a failure. This phenomenon is known as the “What the heck effect.”
This is how it appears: You intended to go to bed early every night, but one Friday you couldn’t help but stay up late to watch an additional episode of “Succession.” Your plans to go to bed early after that were abandoned since, “What the hell,” you had already failed.
Fortunately, there is a technique to avoid this outcome. According to research, you can get better success by setting challenging objectives (like a consistent 10 p.m. bedtime) but allowing yourself one or two “get out of jail free” passes each week. Your stretch goal keeps you inspired, and the option to declare a “emergency” rather than just giving up after a mistake keeps you moving forward.
1. Enlist some assistance from your friends.
Why not enlist some assistance from your friends?
Being around successful people can improve your own performance. It would be wise to start hanging out with individuals who have accomplished their goals and can show you how to do it if your New Year’s resolve is to run a marathon or write a book.
Spending time with them can help you learn a little bit because you’ll be more likely to adopt their behavioral habits. However, my research and other studies have shown that you will make much more progress if you specifically ask successful friends how they attained a common objective and use similar strategies yourself.
Interestingly, there is evidence that tutoring peers who have similar aspirations can increase success rates as well. Your self-confidence increases when you’re expected to advise someone else on how to succeed (why would people listen to you if you didn’t have anything to say?). Additionally, it makes you more self-aware of what functions than you otherwise may be. Of course, if you disregard your own advice, you’ll feel like a hypocrite.
Happily, making and keeping New Year’s resolutions with friends is more enjoyable, which is another essential to success.
Let’s imagine you read this post after New Year’s Day and you already feel like you’ve failed. According to science, you have not. You can begin fresh at any time you like, whether it’s on your birthday, next Monday, or the following month. Alternately, choose any day to start fresh and follow these five steps to develop a new healthy habit.
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