Are you struggling to stick to your New Years Resolutions? Turns out the trouble could be in the phrasing. Whatever your New Year’s resolutions, here’s an evidence-based way to make them stick for longer.
Instead of telling yourself you’ll stop or avoid doing something, tell yourself you’re going to start doing something instead. For example: instead of promising yourself to stop sitting around to much, you promise you will go out for a run once a week.
This comes from a study that looked at 1,066 participants over 12 months and found that 58.9 percent of those with “approach-orientated” goals considered themselves successful a year after making their resolutions, compared with 47.1 percent of those with “avoidance-oriented” goals.
“For example, if your goal is to stop eating sweets in order to lose weight, you will most likely be more successful if you say ‘I will eat fruit several times a day’ instead,” says psychologist Per Carlbring, from Stockholm University in Sweden.
“You then replace sweets with something healthier, which probably means you will lose weight and also keep your resolution.”
They also found that there is such a thing as too much support. The volunteers got split up into three separate groups at the beginning: those with no support, those with some support, and those with extra support. In this study, support came in the form of asking a friend or relative for help, and getting advice and helpful materials from the researchers.
It was the people in the second group – the “some support” group – that had the highest level of success in sticking to their resolutions, even more so than those in the third group, who had the most support.
The success rate difference between groups two and three wasn’t huge though. The researchers suggest there might be a saturation point as far as support goes, or perhaps differences in the way the third group assessed their level of success.
“It was found that the support given to the participants did not make much of a difference when it came down to how well participants kept their resolutions throughout the year,” says Carlbring. “What surprised us were the results on how to phrase your resolution.”
The new study found that the top resolutions among the participants were around physical health (33 percent), weight loss (20 percent), eating habits (13 percent), personal growth (9 percent) and mental health and sleep (5 percent).
Dr. Calbring had one more bit of advice: “You cannot erase a behavior, but you can replace it with something else,” says Carlbring.
If you are interested in changing your life with a New Year’s Resolution, you may want to begin gradually and build up to bigger change so you don’t get discouraged by setbacks.
The research has been published in PLOS One.