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The secret to successful New Year’s Resolutions

Updated: Feb 7

Linda Pourmassina, MD


Many of us participate in the yearly ritual of creating and sharing our self-improvement goals in the form of New Year’s resolutions. This tradition represents our aspirations for personal and/or professional growth, reflecting our deepest desires for change and improvement. However, despite our best intentions, the failure rate of these resolutions is notoriously high.




92% of New Year’s resolutions fail.


You might just be one of those people who have had trouble making your resolutions “stick.”


Here we’ll share:

1. Why it’s not your lack of willpower.

2. The basic and simple groundwork it takes to achieve personal goals going forward. 


The Study on New Year’s Resolutions

Did you know there was a large study done on the success rates of New Year’s resolutions?In 2020, the Public Library of Science (PLoS) published the results of a study done on people who made New Years resolutions, and it shed light on a pivotal aspect of goal setting.  The study categorized resolutions into two types: approach-oriented goals, which focus on adopting new behaviors or habits, and avoidance-oriented goals, which center on getting rid of undesirable ones.

  

Let’s look at 2 people, Jeremy and Alyssa.   

  • Jeremy knows he needs to eat more healthily. Typical lunches are meat sandwiches and chips. Jeremy has set this goal for himself: “I will eat more balanced meals by adding a fruit to my lunch” 

  • Alyssa always knows she needs to eat more healthily. She often finds herself mindlessly eating snacks late at night while watching TV. She has told herself that she will stop doing that.  

 

Who is more likely to succeed in the long run?   

Jeremy has an approach-oriented goal, which has a significantly higher success rate. Psychologically, when we set goals that are approach-oriented, we align our mindset towards growth and progress. This positive framing helps us stay motivated and resilient in the face of challenges.   

On the other hand, Alyssa’s is an example of an avoidance-oriented goal. These can often lead to a mindset of restriction and limitation. And that’s a recipe for mental exhaustion and unsustainability in the long run. 

The way we frame our goals plays a critical role in their success




Changing How You Frame Your Goals 

If you tend to craft avoidance-oriented goals, switching to more effective goal setting will require a little bit of self-work. Sound scary? Don’t worry, it really does not take a huge commitment. But it does take just a little regular practice. Before you know it, you will unconsciously start making more approach-oriented goals (and achieving them!). 

There are two basic “muscles” to exercise as part of the groundwork: mindfulness and self-awareness


Mindfulness is being fully present, aware of where we are, what we’re doing and how we are feeling more often.


Self-awareness involves truly understanding our own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and drives.

We all have a natural ability to be mindful and self-aware, but it’s hard to tap into it when life is busy.  Taking small steps to be more mindful results in more focus, clarity, and perspective around ourselves and our situation. As a result, we will start noticing when our goals might be stemming from external pressures or unrealistic standards. 


Being more attuned to our true desires and deeper motivations unlocks our ability to set goals that

are not only achievable but are also ultimately aligned with our core values.

 

Journaling 

• Write down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences regularly. 

• Reflect on your entries to gain insights into your patterns and emotions. 

Mindful Walking 

• Pay attention to each step, the sensations of movement, and the environment

around you. 

• Engage your senses by noticing sounds, smells, and sights. 

Meditating 

• Try focusing on your breath, a mantra, or a specific point of attention for a few minutes and gradually increase the duration over time  


Exercising mindfulness and self-awareness

increases your mental fitness


Being mindful and self-aware has the added benefit of improving your overall mental fitness, which is key to unblocking your full potential.


It’s never too late to reset or reframe your goals 

It’s only natural to feel like you failed at your New Year’s resolution you didn’t stick to. But now you know that it was not because of your willpower, it was just how you framed your goal.

Remember, there is no expiration on resetting your goals and taking steps towards self-improvement in 2024. You've got this!


So go get ‘em!


References: 

  1. "A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals." PLoS. 

  1. "The Psychology Behind Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail." Verywell Mind. 

  1. “92% of New Year’s resolutions fail. This is how you join the 8% club.” Medium.com  


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