Already Failed Your New Year’s Resolutions? There’s a Science as to Why That Is

New Year's resolutions fail

A month into the new year and already it’s reported that most people have started to give up on their resolutions. Data from the social fitness platform Strava has found that the most common date that people’s fitness kick starts to falter is 12 January.

This chimes with other research that says New Year’s resolutions are essentially unsustainable. A 2020 Ipsos poll found that more than half of people who made a resolution will drop it long before the year is over, with many doing so simply because they forgot.

“It’s easy to set a resolution at the end of December or beginning of January, but studies show that 88 percent of people who set New Year resolutions fail them within the first two weeks,” Dr Asim Shah, Professor of Psychiatry and Behaviour Science at Baylor College of Medicine has said.

He argues that while reasons for failure vary from person to person, typically the common theme for quitting is that people go too hard, too quickly on their resolutions. However, data from Ancestry suggests that there may be much more to adopting new habits and sticking with them than sheer force of will.

How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions

Things like losing weight, exercising more, or saving money are often set in idealistic terms, without a long-term strategy for achievement to back them up.

“We always advise making resolutions easy and achievable and starting by making small steps,” said Shah. “Don’t jump to the big things; if you want to lose weight, make your goal weight realistic.”

Shah has said that New Year’s resolutions — in the broad concept of setting self-improvement goals — are not bad ideas in and of themselves. But it’s the half-thought-through notion of a total lifestyle change that sets people up for failure. His suggestions for setting resolutions that work are to choose to change one thing at a time and work towards it by making small adjustments in your life.

Resolutions should be tracked so that any achievement towards it will spur you on with a little weekly or monthly motivation. It’s also easier to see exactly where you’re going wrong.

Finally, tackling a resolution alone is going to make it harder. Shah argues that having a friend or partner join you on your journey will keep you dedicated and provide some accountability.

“It’s also good to start with a short-term goal. This can give instant gratification and help give you the confidence to strive for a long-term resolution,” Shah said.

Resolutions that are geared toward overall well-being are the easiest to achieve since they are inwardly focused and don’t require the assistance of other people. These are things like improving your mental, physical, and financial health.

Going slow and setting small targets along the way is the key to success and, while New Year’s only comes around once every 12 months, there’s no reason you can’t commit to change at any time during the year.

Genetics May Hold the Secret to New Year’s Resolutions

It’s well known that our DNA codes for our physical characteristics and even some more subjective experiences like an aversion to coriander. However, the consumer genomics company Ancestry has said that genetics could play a far larger role in personality traits than we might think.

The company’s Traits feature aims to pin down the genetic markers that can give insights into things like how well suited to waking up early you are, how quickly your heart rate recovers after exercise, and your overall fitness endurance.

Studies have shown that genetics plays a key role, or even a dominant one, in determining how our bodies respond to a workout. Understanding which traits your genetics are channeling you towards, and which they are pushing you away from, can help in setting expectations for your New Year’s Resolutions.

So, depending on how sensitive to caffeine you are or whether you have the genetic make-up of a sprinter will influence how difficult those resolutions are to maintain. If you find yourself slipping, perhaps you can give yourself a break knowing that your own physiology may not be in your favour. Still, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be overcome, only that it may be more difficult than for other people.

Related: New Year’s Revolutions: The Sustainability Glow-Ups Taking Place in 2024

Related: There’s a Reason Why We All Hate New Year’s Eve

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