Episode 14 – New Year’s Resolutions: can we use science to make them stick?

Welcome to 2022! You might have mixed feelings about what is to come in the year ahead… a new year often brings a lot of hope, excitement and promise, but with so much uncertainty in the world at the moment, many are feeling quite despondent, and justifiably so. It follows that many of us have been less successful with attaining resolutions and goals over the past few years, mostly due to Covid-related disruption. Aleena and Janine decided to check out the research literature around New Year’s resolutions – what can we learn that might be helpful in setting the right goals for us this year and in getting them to stick? They also square out about the world’s first *true* millipede, and explore the most efficient way to change a doona cover.

Is support helpful for smashing those New Year’s resolutions?

The participants were randomly allocated to one of three groups: (1) no support; (2) some support; and (3) extended support. Some support seemed better than no support. But, interestingly, some support also seemed better than extended support. This was not what the researchers were expecting! The extended support also seemed no better than no support at all – curious!

Aleena takes us through the possible reasons for these results. Maybe there is a real Goldilocks effect here: not too little and not too much support does the trick.

The study also found that approach-oriented resolutions had a better chance of success than avoidance-oriented goals. So it might be that trying to do something is preferable to trying to avoid something (ever noticed how hard it is to “stop eating junk food”? Maybe a better goal is to try to “eat more nutritious foods”).

Plus some sisterly banter on Aleena’s and Janine’s own hopes and dreams for 2022. It’s the third year of a pandemic, so their ambitions are modest to say the least. They are sure you can relate?!

Does monitoring your progress towards goals improve chances of success?

This paper outlined an extensive systematic review. In total, 138 studies were found that met the strict criteria – that participants were randomly assigned to either a control group, or a group where they were guided on monitoring their goal progress in some way.

When all of the data were brought together, they researchers ended up with data from just under 20,000 individuals – aren’t systematic reviews just awesome?! The results showed that monitoring progress DID increase participants’ chances of success, but the effect was small to moderate in scale. Other factors that increased chances of success included physically recording progress, sharing progress publicly, monitoring frequently, and actually measuring the outcomes reached rather than what you might be doing to get there. Past studies have also shown that that having a strong intention to reach a particular goal is important too.

Putting it all together…

Here is a quick checklist that summarises what we learned, which you might like to use to improve the chances of success with your next resolution/goal:

  • Strong intention is important: make sure you really want to achieve it
  • Frame it positively around what you DO want to do, rather than what you might want to avoid.
  • Gather support from others, but only to level that feels right for you
  • Monitor the the current state or outcome
  • Physically record progress regularly
  • Share progress with others in way you feel comfortable
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