What are healthy habits? How do we maintain and keep up our New Year’s resolutions without falling into the cliché of “Old habits die hard?” Discover the psychology behind resolutions, goals, and habits – and read our psychology-backed tips on how to make resolutions you actually stick with.
It’s time again to think about those New Year’s resolutions – perhaps, some healthy habits to start in the coming year. Resolutions among the US population tend to remain quite similar from year to year; with the front-runners previously having been healthy habits, such as “improve fitness” and “losing weight.” And we may see no difference in the popularity of these resolutions in 2022.
Sometimes, it only takes a matter of weeks before our motivation is gone, and we fall back into our old habits. The problem is often the resolutions themselves. Often, they are too ambitious, too imprecise, or they are simply not important enough to us. So let us tell you how to improve your mentality when it comes to starting the year right. Whether you want to focus more on your health in the new year or otherwise, we’ll give you our top-seven tips on how to make habits last.
New Year, New Me: What Are the Most Popular Resolutions?
In one YouGov survey conducted in 2020, researchers asked people in the United States about their New Year’s resolutions for 2021. Each year, survey results prove insightful and fascinating in terms of observing the generational differences between the New Year’s resolutions made each year.
While millennials, at 38 percent, are more likely to make resolutions compared with baby boomers and generation Xers, resolutions made by the latter two generations are more likely to involve picking up new, healthy habits, such as losing weight or exercising more.
Here are the top-ten resolutions that were made in 2021 – only time will tell whether these will stay the same for those making resolutions for 2022.
Survey: New Year’s Resolutions for 2021
1: Doing more exercise or improving my fitness (50 percent)
2: Losing weight (48 percent)
3: Saving more money (44 percent)
4: Improving my diet (39 percent)
5: Pursuing a career ambition (21 percent)
6: Spending more time with family (18 percent)
7: Taking up a new hobby (14 percent)
8: Something else (14 percent)
9: Spending less time on social media (13 percent)
10: Quit smoking (10 percent)
Old Habits Die Hard: What Is False Hope in Psychology?
One explanation for quickly failing to keep to our New Year’s resolutions is “false hope syndrome,” meaning people have unrealistic ideas about how quickly and easily they can change their habits. They above all underestimate what effect such changes will have on their lives.
Losing ten pounds some may think is easy, and that this weight loss will make them good-looking, athletic, and automatically more successful professionally and romantically. This overconfidence leads to people wanting to change many things at once and to imagine unrealistic scenarios. This rarely ends well; we fail because of the high pressure we put on ourselves, are frustrated, and end up throwing the towel in.
On top of that, change becomes harder for us as we get older. According to studies, as we get older, we tend to become more reliable and friendly, but less sociable and less open to new things. This lack of openness prevents many people from breaking out of old habits.
7 Tips for Really Good Resolutions
According to a study, people who make resolutions have a higher chance of changing their lifestyle in some way. So, it’s better to make a resolution and fail at it than not to try at all! The crux of the matter is making resolutions that are actionable and fit into your daily life. Our seven tips will help you do exactly that.
Tip 1: Change a Lot, Little by Little
Too much change can overwhelm us. Don’t try to start from scratch with a 45-minute-workout three times a week. Instead, start small: Opt for shorter workouts and that fit into your schedule. Don’t completely ban screen time on your phone in the evening – choose to go without your phone for an hour after dinner. Only eat cake or chocolate three times a week instead of cutting sugar out of your diet completely.
This will not only make it easier for you – you’ll also feel a sense of achievement sooner, which will motivate you to keep at it!
Tip 2: Set Concrete Goals
Many people plan to exercise regularly in the new year. But what “regularly” means to one person means something completely different to someone else. As you can see, if goals are not concrete enough, they are no good at motivating us.
A good resolution is also an action plan, it focuses on the journey that leads to the goal, rather than the goal itself – for example, “I'll go for a 20-minute run twice a week in the evening.” Or “I won't eat candy after 6 p.m.”
A good aid for setting goals are the SMART criteria used in marketing and management. According to this formula, goals should be:
- relevant, and
For example: I want to be able to run five kilometers in under 25 minutes after six months’ worth of weekly training sessions to help make me fitter and faster.
So, the next time you make resolutions, consider whether your goals are SMART!
Tip 3: Build on Old Habits
When was the last time you thought about how best to brush your teeth or get dressed in the morning? Exactly. Our brain loves to make us do things automatically. But that also makes it extremely difficult to get rid of familiar routines.
What helps is building new habits into old ones. Are you used to driving to work every morning? Then it might not be hard to get into the habit of taking the bike instead of the bus, or the stairs instead of the elevator. Do you like to cook often? Then think about how you can make your favorite recipes healthier. This way, you can introduce healthy habits into your routine without needing to adapt to too much change at once.
Tip 4: Have Fun with Your Resolutions
Medicine has to taste disgusting, healthy food doesn’t taste as good as unhealthy food, and exercise has to hurt, right? It’s all nonsense! You don’t have to torture yourself to live healthier. That only leads to resentment for new healthy habits. Instead, make resolutions you can have fun with.
- If you hate jogging, don’t make a resolution to jog. Find a sport that you enjoy, perhaps in a group with friends. People who hate sport can also plan longer walks into their daily routine to get more exercise.
- Do you love pasta more than anything else? Then don’t go for the low-carb diet. Try whole-grain pasta instead – it provides you with valuable fiber and keeps you full for longer. Simply change your diet in a way that allows you to eat things that are healthy and that you still find delicious.
Read more about specific diet and fitness topics, such as metabolism and veganism, in our Health Portal.
Tip 5: Make Your Resolutions Important
If a resolution is not close to your heart, you will not pursue it for long. Check whether your motivation to carry out a resolution really comes from within. Do you want to hang out less on your smartphone because it’s a hot topic among mental health experts? Focus on goals that feel more relatable to you. Do you feel stressed and have a weak immune system? Do you want to try more sport to live healthier? That’s where you should start.
Go for goals that are a high priority for you or that would relieve some discontent you feel toward an aspect of your current lifestyle. If you find that your mental health should take priority due to current stress in your life, adapt some emotional resilience techniques or stock up on mental health supplements to help you relax and sleep better. Prioritize this one thing that is important to you instead of making a list of many small resolutions.
Tip 6: Stay Accountable
When others witness our progress, we suddenly feel accountable for them as well. So, share your resolutions with friends and family or make it public. This spurs you on and importantly keeps reminding you of your goals.
In the age of the Internet and social media, this is easier than ever. Why no document your athletic progress on Instagram or start a blog where you write about your project.
Tip 7: Failure Is OK
You should not put yourself under too much pressure. It’s perfectly okay to fail at some point. One study showed that 71 percent of people who were successful with their New Year’s resolutions in the long run had a slip-up in the first month. Expect fluctuating success – it will then be easier for you to stick with your goals when there are relapses.
Finally, stay flexible! If your resolution doesn’t succeed, you can incorporate baby steps to help you reach your goal. Then, for example, you can start again in February with new motivation.
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 Branje S. J. T., van Lieshout C. F. M., Gerris J. R. M. “Big Five personality development in adolescence and adulthood,” Eur. J. Personal., vol. 21(1), pp. 45–62, February 2007, doi: 10.1002/per.596.
 Norcross J. C., Mrykalo M. S., Blagys M. D. “Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers,” J. Clin. Psychol., vol. 58(4), pp. 397–405, April 2002.
 “How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions,” Psychology Today, available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evidence-based-living/201712/how-keep-your-new-years-resolutions, accessed on November 8, 2018.
 “Exercising and sticking to a healthy diet are the most common 2021 New Year’s resolutions,” available at https://today.yougov.com/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2020/12/23/2021-new-years-resolutions-poll, accessed on December 10, 2021.