The Science of Why It’s Easy To Fail At New Years Resolutions

Dec 31, 2020

Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND

Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND


With Boxing Day upon us many people are now starting to turn their minds to New Year’s, 2021 and those pesky resolutions. Are you one of the millions of people that make a resolution each year? Do you sit down and write a list about how you want the new year to be better, how you want to lose weight, exercise more, how you want to be happier? Now ask yourself how many of them have you accomplished for longer than a few days? How many of them have elevated your quality of life? How many of them are now habits that you don’t think about?

But did you know that only about 8% of people who make resolutions succeed in keeping them (1)? Yeah. There’s a reason many people write the same resolutions every year. But there’s a way to change your resolution creation technique that results in resolutions that stick. And it all has to do with the science of habits.

A habit is nothing more than an automatic response. It’s something that you don’t think about, in fact, more than 40% of the actions you take are habits (2). You wake up and stop for coffee. You get home after work and sit in front of the TV. But habits aren’t necessarily always bad. An exercise routine, making your lunch the night before and a bedtime strategy are all habits that add to your quality of life. To build healthy habits and resolutions for 2018, try these 3 strategies (4,5)


Focus on a small action. Instead of saying “I’m going to get more exercise” or “I’m going to eat healthy” focus on something that is achievable and maintainable. Instead of writing the above things, write “I’m going to take the stairs each morning instead of the elevator” or “I”m going to add one green food to my supper”. These are much easier to achieve, and maintain.


Piggyback on what you’re already doing and use your current routines as a cue to add something new. For instance, add 10 minutes to the walk that you’re already doing, change your drive home so that you consistently pass by the gym, when you’re sitting down at the end of the day meal plan what you’re going to eat the next day.


Take the easy way out. Because you’re creating a new habit, you need to practice that habit for at least 3 to 7 times before it will “stick”. So make it easy. Use a post-it note, prep things ahead of time. Within 21 days of sticking to the new routine it will become a habit, and then you’re laughing.

3. Feldman, D. B. and Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students.  Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759.
4. Oettingen, G., Pak, H., & Schnetter, K. (2001). Self-regulation of goal setting: Turning free fantasies about the future into binding goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 736-753.


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