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6 evidence-based tips for making New Year’s resolutions stick

The idea of a ‘new year, new you’ can be intoxicating. But all too often, our resolutions barely get off the starting blocks. Research conducted by Strava in 2019 using over 800 million user-logged activities predicted the day most people are likely to give up on their New Year's resolutions is January 19th. A month later and the U.S. News and World report shows that around 80% of resolutions have failed.

There’s no doubt about it: making a change is hard. At Positive, we’ve spent years honing our behaviour change model, tweaking it every time new research comes to light. Here are 6 tips, based on what we’ve learnt, to help you make 2022 the year you stick at it.

1. Build your motivation

Take the time to strengthen your resolve before you start. One way to do this is by cultivating a feeling psychologists call ‘dissonance’. This is when the beliefs and values you hold really start to jar with the way you’re acting – and you’re compelled to make a change. For example, sometimes a health scare can make us finally stick to that exercise regime. You don’t need the scare though – visualising how your life might be if you don’t make the change can also build some helpful dissonance.

2. Remember that change is possible

Another important element of intrinsic motivation is having a growth mindset: when you believe it’s possible to change, you’re going to be more motivated to keep trying. And it certainly is possible: thanks to neuroplasticity, our thought patterns and behaviours are never fixed – we can change our brains, and in turn the way we think and act.

3. Recruit your colleagues, family and friends

Research shows that you’re more likely to stick to positive new behaviours if you engage your social network. Getting the people closest to you to support your resolutions will boost your chance of success. They can help to hold you accountable, as well as provide valuable encouragement and motivation. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, peer pressure is a good thing!

4. Make it fun

Our emotions are a huge predictor of our behaviour: we’re more likely to maintain a new habit if we feel rewarded by it. We like James Clear’s (author of Atomic Habits) model here: set up your resolution to be obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. For example, getting yourself a stylish bottle, and ticking your litres off on a daily chart, will most likely make it easier to stick to a resolution to drink more water.

5. Practise self-compassion

If you can, try to avoid too much self-criticism – go easy on the ‘shoulds’. Self-compassion is proven to make you more likely to succeed. For example, Kristin D. Neff, expert in self-compassion, found that students who are self-compassionate in the wake of exam failure go on to study harder for future exams. Keeping your self-talk positive really will serve you better.

6. Prepare for setbacks

Our co-founder Brian’s favourite behaviour change model cleverly builds in a ‘Relapse’ phase. No matter how determined you are to change, it’s highly likely you’ll fall back into your old ways from time to time. This is because our brains tend towards ‘cognitive ease’, meaning they like to do what they’re used to doing. To increase your chances of long-term success, try to predict which obstacles might get in your way, and take practical steps to head them off. When you do stumble, dust yourself off, and get straight back on that horse. Added bonus: bouncing back from failure is an important part of strengthening resilience.

Still not convinced by traditional New Year’s resolutions?

Why not give Gretchen Rubin’s ‘22 for 2022’ list a whirl? You can include small things, big things, fun things, serious things... You can write a list just for yourself, or you can create a joint list with a partner, friend or family member. The possibilities are endless!

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