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Our best tools for New Year's resolutions



Are you planning to start 2024 with some New Year’s resolutions? We’re here to help set you up for success, by giving you tips and tools guided by research.


If you’re intending to make some New Year’s resolutions, you’ll certainly not be alone: polling data show that, year after year after year, roughly 40% of people in the U.S. plan to make resolutions. While behavior change is generally hard, evidence from multiple studies suggests that:


“Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolvers do in fact succeed, at least in the short run.”

This could be, in part, due to what some researchers have called the “fresh start effect”, whereby significant dates or events help people get past the usual struggles with willpower that often stop them from reaching their goals.


What are the most popular resolutions?


Studies and surveys (such as this one and this one) consistently find that the following resolutions are among the most popular:


  • Improving physical health

  • Eating healthier

  • Exercising more

  • Losing weight

  • Self-improvement / personal growth

  • Spending less / saving more


Are some resolutions more likely to succeed than others?

  

Researchers tend to find that there’s no difference in the rates of success for resolutions that target different areas of life. The exception is resolutions for weight loss, where the evidence is mixed (for example, this study found weight loss resolutions to be less successful on average, while this study and this study found no difference).


 However, a major common finding with weight loss resolutions is that even when people succeed, they often gain the weight back within two years, so focusing on maintenance (and not just the original weight loss) is critical.


Overall, this research suggests it may not matter much which area of your life you target with your resolutions (though you may want to temper your expectations if you’re targeting weight loss). However, this doesn’t mean that all (or even most) resolutions are equally likely to succeed.


This study found that resolutions formulated as approach goals (that is, goals directed at something you want - e.g., saving more money) were more effective on average than resolutions formulated as avoidance goals (directed away from something you don’t want - e.g., not spending as much money).


In our own research, we also found a substantial relationship between motivation and success in forming new habits. While we can't be certain this is a causal effect (since we only measured a correlation), greater motivation is linked to better results. So, all else equal, it may be wise to choose goals that you feel very motivated by.


 

If you want help formulating the most effective goals you can use as New Year’s resolutions, you could try our free tool:




If you want help tracking your weekly progress with your resolutions or generating some accountability to keep you on track, you could try our Pathkeeper tool:



ClearerThinking.org currently has over 80 free, research-backed tools listed on our website, with a wide range of different purposes. So, if you have a few extra minutes, you may also want to take a look at our full list of tools


Making big adjustments to your lifestyle and accomplishing long-term goals can feel overwhelming, but we hope these tools help you become, at your pace and according to your standards, a better and more fulfilled human being.

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