2023 is officially underway. So, how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Or did you decide to ditch the long list of new habits to hone, knowing it's not really worked for you in the past? 

However you're approaching the new year ahead, this blog will weigh in on the science of whether 'New Year, New You' is really worth pursuing, or if you're better off swapping the vision board of hopes and dreams for small and sustainable changes in the days, weeks and months to come, as and when it works for you.   

New Year, Fresh Start

Why do we make New Year’s resolutions?

Why is it that the turn of the year seems a significantly more appealing time for change than a random Tuesday evening in November, for example? Like many things, it's all thanks to our wonderful brains and something that researchers have coined 'The Fresh Start Effect'. 

The Fresh Start Effect describes how we use temporal landmarks (the start of a new time period) as motivation to set and stick to new goals. We've all heard the phrase 'diet starts Monday' for example, where people resolve to eat healthily from the start of the upcoming week, rather than mid-way through the actual day they've recognised a need to change their eating habits. 

This taps into our desire to separate our past and future selves, to leave our mistakes or less desirable behaviour in the past and create a clean slate. This is no bad thing, by the way. In fact, research suggests that we are 62% more likely to stick to a goal that we start at the beginning of a new week! But more on that later... 

The science of sticking with it 

Sure, we can make resolutions... but can we keep them -and if so- for how long? 

A landmark study conducted in the late eighties found that over two-thirds (77%) of people who set a New Year's resolution stuck to it for the first week, but less than half (40%) had kept them up at the 6-month mark and less than a fifth (just 19%) of those were still going with the resolutions two years later. 

A more recent study, conducted in 2020, found that 55% of participants reported being successful in sustaining their resolutions over the past year, but it was those who set approach-oriented goals (i.e., doing something new to them) who were the most successful, compared to those who set avoidance-oriented goals (i.e., stopping a current behaviour).  

So, it seems taking on a new challenge beats kicking an existing habit when it comes to sticking power. What if you're really wanting to stop smoking, reduce your alcohol intake or spend less time sitting on the sofa though? How can these avoidance-based goals be adapted to incorporate novelty and challenge? 

We've got you covered. Check out our top tips below for advice on making resolutions that stick:

Let's say you're wanting to be less sedentary this year. You work a 9-5 desk job, drive there and back, and are often too tired for any actual exercise once you're through the door at the end of the day. Now is not the time to set yourself the challenge of a pre-work 5k every day for the next year, but what's to say you can't get a thousand steps under your belt before the drive home whilst rush hour dies down? Or set a timer on your phone to get up and move every hour throughout the day? (Maybe snooze it during meetings though- walking off mid-meeting isn't usually a good look!) 

The easier a behaviour is to enact, the more likely we are to give it a go and keep it up.  So start small, setting manageable goals little and often. This will provide you with some rewarding positive reinforcement once you've achieved them, rather than the goals being so unattainable that you've given up on day two. To increase your chances of sticking with a behaviour even more, check out Easy's good friends Attractive, Social and Timely. Collectively, these components make up the 'EAST principle' which outlines four ways to apply behavioural insights to promote and maintain positive behaviour change. For a bitesize overview of the EAST principle and its big sister MINDSPACE, watch the video below!


Have you ever wanted to chuck the towel in on a new challenge, but then remembered that just last week you announced to all your friends and followers on social media that you were going to do it? Maybe you can't think of anything worse than waking at 6am for that spin class you signed up for, but you promised your friend you'd go with them, and you can't let them down now.  

'Commitment' is represented by the C in MINDSPACE and refers to how we strive for consistency in any public promises we make and tend to reciprocate acts of others. This tendency can come in rather handy when it comes to goal setting as it taps into our innate loss aversion (i.e., we are more motivated to avoid losses than we are to achieve equivalent gains). As the costs of not keeping a commitment increase (e.g., it'll upset your friend, you incur a late fee from the gym) the likelihood of you pursuing the commitment also increases. So, next time you want to see a new goal through, perhaps just blurt it out to a work colleague or family member before you can think twice - they'll hold you accountable! 

Earlier I introduced the Fresh Start Effect and our tendency to set new goals that begin after a landmark in time, be it a new week, new year, or next/'big' birthday. Whilst this has been proven to be successful in the short term for many people, putting off new goals until you reach a specific moment in time can actually create anxiety and undue stress, not to mention leading to feelings of regret later down the line.  
In this brilliant TED Talk (that has transformed the way many of us at Social Change approach our work), writer Tim Urban explains why constantly putting off big life decisions, especially those with no set deadlines, leaves us feeling dissatisfied and disappointed. 

I hate to break it to you, but according to Tim, we're all master procrastinators. Whilst we all have a rational decision maker steering the ship of our productivity, we also possess an Instant Gratification Monkey who likes to wreak havoc and take the wheel, steering us off-course into the depths of distraction (or doom-scrolling, if you're like me!).  


So, if you've already fallen off the wagon of a resolution set on New Year's Day, who cares? Start again today rather than putting it off until next year. Reframe the goal. Break it down into easier steps. Set yourself some deadlines to keep that monkey in check.