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Research-Backed Strategies to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

As the New Year dawns, many of us set resolutions with the hope of bettering ourselves. 

However, keeping these resolutions can be a daunting task. Scientific research in the fields of psychology and habit formation provides valuable insights into why some people succeed in maintaining their resolutions while others falter. This article explores five key strategies, grounded in scientific research, to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions.

Understanding the Psychology Behind Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions often fail because they are based on sheer willpower, without considering the underlying psychological mechanisms of habit formation. A study conducted by Oscarsson et al. (2020) in PLOS ONE found that 55% of participants were successful in maintaining their resolutions for a year. The study also revealed that participants with approach-oriented goals were significantly more successful (58.9%) than those with avoidance-oriented goals (47.1%)​​​​​​.

Incorporating Goal Characteristics and Action Planning in Health Behaviour Change

The process of setting and achieving New Year’s resolutions is closely linked to the characteristics of the goals set and the formulation of action plans. Ryan R. Bailey’s article on “Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behaviour Change” in PMC highlights the importance of these aspects. It outlines that merely setting a goal, especially in the context of health behaviour change, is typically insufficient for actual behaviour change. This phenomenon, known as the “intention-behaviour gap,” suggests that intentions alone do not translate into action.

Bailey emphasises the distinction between different types of goals: approach versus avoidance goals, performance versus mastery goals, and difficult versus easy goals. For instance, approach goals, which focus on moving towards a positive outcome (e.g., “eating a cup of low-fat yogurt”) are generally more effective than avoidance goals, which focus on avoiding a negative outcome (e.g., “not eating junk food”). This is because approach goals are associated with more positive emotions and greater psychological well-being.

While performance goals evaluate one’s ability, mastery goals are about increasing existing abilities and learning new skills. The latter are particularly beneficial as they encourage problem-solving and active engagement, making them more conducive to long-term behaviour change.

Furthermore, the discussion of goal difficulty reveals that challenging goals, when intrinsically motivating, tend to produce better results compared to easy goals. This aligns with the concept of self-efficacy, where belief in one’s ability to achieve a goal plays a crucial role.

Additionally, Bailey points out the significance of action plans in implementing these goals. Action plans are specific, detailing where, when, and how a goal will be achieved. They are essentially short-term goals that outline the steps necessary to achieve the broader long-term goal. Importantly, coping plans are also mentioned as a strategy to anticipate and overcome potential barriers, ensuring sustained action towards the goal.

This research provides a framework for setting and achieving New Year’s resolutions by focusing on the type of goals set and the detailed planning of actions, reinforcing the idea that successful resolution adherence requires more than just intention.

Harnessing Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Efficacy for Lasting Change

Intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy are pivotal in sustaining New Year’s resolutions. Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in a behaviour because it is inherently rewarding, not just for external rewards. For example, choosing to exercise because it brings joy or reduces stress, rather than solely to lose weight. This internal motivation is more sustainable and leads to higher engagement and persistence in activities.

Self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s capability to execute behaviours necessary to produce specific performance attainments, is another crucial factor. The same study highlights that individuals who have high self-efficacy in relation to their resolutions are more likely to set challenging goals, persist in the face of difficulties, and ultimately achieve their objectives. For instance, someone with high self-efficacy in fitness is more likely to persist with a challenging workout regimen, despite initial hurdles.

These concepts are integral to effective goal setting and achievement in health behaviour change. Clinicians and health promotion professionals often leverage these insights to support individuals in making and sustaining healthful changes. By focusing on intrinsic motivators and building self-efficacy, individuals can set and achieve more effective and personally meaningful New Year’s resolutions.

The Impact of Social Support on Resolution Success

Social support plays a critical role in maintaining New Year’s resolutions, as highlighted in various psychological studies. Social support significantly enhances the success rate of individuals in achieving their resolutions. This support can come from friends, family, or even support groups and online communities.

The presence of a supportive network provides encouragement and accountability, which are essential for maintaining motivation over time. For instance, having a workout partner or joining a fitness group creates a sense of commitment and can help in sustaining exercise goals. Similarly, online forums or social media groups focused on specific resolutions, such as quitting smoking or healthy eating, offer a platform for sharing progress, challenges, and tips.

Moreover, social support isn’t just about encouragement; it’s also about the practical aspects of achieving a goal. For example, family members can facilitate a healthy eating resolution by choosing healthier food options at home. In essence, a supportive environment creates a positive feedback loop, reinforcing the individual’s efforts and commitment to their resolutions.

This research highlights the importance of not just setting personal resolutions, but also cultivating a supportive environment that can significantly increase the likelihood of long-term success.

Embracing a Holistic Approach for Year-Round Resolution Success

Successfully maintaining New Year’s resolutions extends beyond the act of setting goals at the start of the year. It involves a holistic approach, combining clear and achievable goal setting, leveraging intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy, and harnessing the power of social support. 

By understanding and applying these scientifically-backed strategies, individuals can transform their resolutions from fleeting wishes into sustainable changes. This approach not only makes achieving resolutions more feasible, but also turns them into a continuous, year-round journey of personal growth and improvement. 

As we embark on this New Year, let’s embrace these strategies to ensure our resolutions stand the test of time, leading to lasting and meaningful changes in our lives.


  1. Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020, December 9). A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLOS ONE.
  2. Bailey, R. R. (2017, September 13). Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(6), 615–618.

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