December 31, 2020

New Year's Resolutions: A Simple Trick to Stick With It

Commit to a better 2021.

A new year isn't as exciting without a New Year's resolution. And if there's a year we should commit to making improvements, it's definitely 2021. Our culture is notorious for self-improvement and a new year's resolutions is a hard-to-pass tradition. But on the flip side, we're also notorious for abandoning resolutions by January 19.

It's possible to follow through with a new resolution and even easier if you declare your goal in just the right way.

According to a large-scale experiment on new year's resolutions, it's possible to follow through with a new resolution and even easier if you declare your goal in just the right way.
The experiment included 1,066 participants, divided into three equal groups. The groups were identical except for the level of support they received in trying to achieve their goal. Both Groups 2 and 3 received more information on achieving goals and had more frequent follow-ups than Group 1. Additionally, Group 3 got a hot tip to state their goals using the SMART (specific, measurable, accepted, realistic, and time-framed) framework and also told to set small goals throughout the year.
World Health Organization Vitamin D

Study shows that "approach" goals are more effective than "avoid" goals. Photo Credit.

Shockingly, Group 2 was slightly more successful in achieving their goals than Groups 1 and 3. And Group 3 was not any more successful than Group 1. The researchers saw another exciting pattern: participants who stated their goals as approaching vs. avoiding had a higher success rate in achieving their goal (58.9% vs. 47.1%).

Approach goals focus on achieving a positive outcome. "I'll read 12 books in 2021 to keep my mind sharp" is an example of an approach goal.

Avoid goals focus on avoiding a negative outcome. "I'll read 12 books in 2021 to avoid getting dementia" is an example of an avoidance goal.

The five most popular resolutions made (from most to least popular) revolved around physical fitness, weight loss, improving diet, personal growth, and mental health/sleep.

Use Identity

Another secret to keeping a New Years' resolution is to tie it to your identity. A team at the University of Bern in Switzerland looked at the importance of considering identity and personal values when achieving a goal. They say to think of goals as having three main steps:

Step 1: Subordinate goals

...describes specific steps. Here's an example: Every day at 8 am, I will jog for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Intermediate goals

...describe the larger purpose of a subordinate goal. Here's an example: Be physically fit.

Step 3: Superordinate goals

...captures a person's values and is tied to one's identity. Example: I'm a healthy person.
The authors noted that focusing only on subordinate goals might not be as effective as when combined with a focus on superordinate goals. Yes, subordinate goals are the small steps needed to achieve a larger goal. But the superordinate goals help maintain long-term motivation, minimize immediate distractions, and overcome obstacles along the way.
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