Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Science

By Laurie Breen


We’re now in the first week of the New Year, so how are those resolutions coming along? These life hacks, based in behavioral research, can help you reach and maintain your goals to succeed in 2017.




Plan Ahead

Avoid unhealthy, impulsive decisions by planning ahead whenever possible. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that if consumers ordered their groceries 5 or more days in advance, they tended to spend less and order more healthy foods. Similar effects were found among students who were asked to order their lunches a week in advance versus ordering them at the time of consumption.


Read More: “A behavioral decision theory perspective on hedonic and utilitarian choice”



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Keep Good Company

The influence of peers on the behavior of individuals has been well documented, but it’s important to find peers who are going to help you succeed – not enable you to fail. Researchers Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton looked at co-workers who were given treadmill desks, and found that if employees were given access to the usage statistics of their co-workers, they tended to perform only as well as their least successful co-worker.


Similar results were found in a study that looked at savings habits – when employees were given information as to how much their peers were putting away in their 401k, they tended to save less than co-workers who made investment decisions without access to peer data. This goes to show that surrounding yourself with people who will help you succeed, or even going it alone, is better than having a friend who says, “let’s just skip the gym today.”


Read More: “Exercise Motivation: What Starts and Keeps People Exercising?”



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Think Small

Instead of making vague resolutions like “Get Healthy” or “Be Happier,” break it down to smaller, specific goals. Starting with small goals helps to kick-start your year by building momentum for change. When you start chalking up wins on a daily or weekly basis, you’re more inclined to keep going and stick to your resolutions. Researchers have found that the body physically responds to the emotions associated with the achievement of goals, including “broad sympathetic activation – decreased pre-ejection period, increased cardiac output, and increased skin conductance and response rate.”


Read More: “Goal Setting your way to Academic Success”


Or, be a rebel and don’t do stupid New Year’s resolutions at all.


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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

1 Comment

  1. Charles Rubens

    Excellent advice, particularly for millennials who have yet to develop “Responsibility Genes” to go with their senses of freedom and privilege,