In this article, we discuss the science behind New Years’ resolutions. We look into why they’re notoriously hard to keep, and how science says we can prepare ourselves for success.
The New Year is a beautiful time where we’re all united under the umbrella of a common goal. As a whole, we tend to start January full of hope and the idea that we’re trying to improve. Motivation is high on the first of the month, but all too often it decreases as life gets in the way or we lose sight of why we wanted our written rule in the first place.
Over the next few paragraphs, we’ll take a look at which resolutions are born ready for success and which might hinder you in the long run. We’ll look at the science of goals and see what you can do throughout this month and beyond to start strong and stay strong in 2022.
Resolutions: The Two Goal Types
Superordinate goals are a more abstract motivation, fundamental to our overall sense of self and worth. The idea is that these goals are explored deeply with an overarching sense of why.
One example given was to then formulate a goal along the lines of “I want to be a person who…”
Subordinate goals are decidedly more concrete and offer a precise action or step that they want to take.
Options might include going for a run twice a week, taking the stairs at work, or even eating healthily. Depending on which action feels the most important to pursue, the goal is built around just this.
This 2019 study by Höchli, et al., explores the effect that both these goal types have on the motivation of goal pursuit, particularly in terms of New Year’s resolutions.
The idea was that setting subordinate goals would be more successful as previous data suggests they boost performance. Studies highlight the advantages of having a single goal of initiating a specific action over a short period of time.
Conversely, supporters of superordinate goals state that their relation to one’s worth implies a higher stake on the line of success. People should, by this theory, be more motivated to carry out behaviours in line with achieving their goal.
The formula for success
Höchli found that while researchers are under the almost unanimous agreement that superordinate goals are most effective for these reasons, there were no correlating figures to prove that either goal individually had a better result on the longevity or success of resolutions.
It is interesting, then, that there was one clear winner in terms of still being motivated over time. Three months into the study, those who combined both superordinate goals and related subordinate goals were ultimately more successful.
Setting Goals That Breed Success
Another study we looked at (Oscarsson, et al., 2020) looked at how the format of goals can play into overall success. The results found that those who set approach-oriented goals were indeed more successful in their resolutions than those who followed avoidance-oriented kinds.
So what does that mean?
Avoid this type of goal:
- I won’t eat sugar this year.
- No more alcohol on weekdays.
- Remove toxic people from my life.
Instead, focus on goals like this:
- I’ll live a healthier lifestyle this year.
- Choosing to drink water with my evening meal.
- I’ll focus on building positive relationships this year.
The Role Of Habit In Keeping Resolutions
In a landmark study, the University of Scranton (1988) found that only 19% of those studied kept their resolutions two years later. One major factor for long-term success and still reaping the benefits of your good intentions made now is forming habits around the actions that build your goals.
It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit. The same study confirmed that an average of 66 days is needed to make this habit automatic. It may sound like a long time when you’re just starting off, but the good news is that it’s definitely achievable in a year. Isn’t that why we set out our goals in January to begin with?
So how do we build long-term habits?
“Habits aren’t just there, but you can get them by repitition and reinforcement.” Dr Nicole Calakos, M.D., PH.D. Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurobiology at Duke University.
One strategy is to recognise the outside factors (that is people, activities, or environments) linked to the habit you’d like to change or build. Once you are aware of this, you can start to change your behavior towards those things.
If you would like to lose weight, for example, you need to look at where you might find your common pitfalls. This might be a tendency to use the vending machine that you pass en route to the canteen each day. To combat this, a common method is to bring a pre-prepared healthy option from home to combat the need to purchase anything at all. Alternatively, you could take a different route to the canteen if another is available to you.
It can be hard to make these choices consciously at first, but over time you will find that habit means you’ll eventually do them without a thought. You can’t build a habit without recognising where it will fit into your life, and you can’t keep it without deciding on initial behavioural changes first.
Top tips going forward
Before you step away, I’d like to recommend this video produced by PBS on the study of habit. It’s only around five minutes long, so it won’t keep you.
Take a moment to think of why you’re making a resolution and think to yourself why it’s important in the first place. Follow the advice above and support your overall ambition with more concrete and attainable goals to maintain your motivation over time, and in doing so you’ll start forming habits too.
If health is a big one for you this year, why not take the first step and check out our services? Our helpful team will be more than happy to discuss colonic hydrotherapy and how it can fit into a healthy lifestyle.