New Year’s Resolutions: Science-Backed Tips to Make Them Stick

Published on December 18, 2021

New Year's Resolutions written at the top of a new page in a notebook

If you’ve ever been inside a gym in early January, you’ll know that it’s packed to the rafters with people hoping to make good on another New Year’s resolution. However, by the time spring rolls around, the crowd tends to thin out as life gets in the way and people fall back into old patterns. It can be tough to stay true to your resolutions after New Year’s Day, which is why we’ll be sharing some tips on how to make habits stick.

It’s no easy feat to build new habits and change your life from the ground up. But there are certainly a few hacks you can lean on to make the process easier, and to avoid slipping through the cracks when things pick up again in January.

Tips for Staying True to Your Resolutions Long After New Year’s 

Whether your New Year’s resolutions are to do with productivity, work-life balance, health and fitness, or another worthy goal in life, make 2022 the year you actually stick to them and follow through on your desire to change. Here are three science-backed tips for making a new habit stick for good:

New Year’s Resolution Tip #1: Set a Firm Goal

"Goals" written at the top of a notepad

When trying to build new habits, it’s important to differentiate between a habit and a routine. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, author Nir Eyal notes that people often confuse a habit with a routine, but the two terms aren’t interchangeable.

A habit is something like drinking more water, which can become so embedded into your day that you do it on autopilot without much effort. A routine, however, would be something like cleaning your apartment on a weekly basis because it takes much more deliberation and effort than a typical habit.

Before you set your New Year’s resolutions this year, be sure to identify which of your goals can be habits and which are routines. This will help set you up for success in the long run. You won’t feel tempted to give up your resolution if it doesn’t become a firmly entrenched habit in your life after just 21 days — a timeframe that’s often repeated as the amount of time necessary to build a habit, but which Eyal notes is unrealistic.

Be patient with yourself and don’t expect miracles overnight. Like many major life changes, adopting improved habits will take time, effort and consistency.

New Year’s Resolution Tip #2: Repetition Is Key

A woman walking across a bridge. Forming new habits can help you achieve your New Year's resolutions.

When attempting to form new lifestyle habits, it’s essential to continue repeating the action over a long period of time until it becomes “second nature.” It will also be easier to implement the habit into your life if you pair it with some sort of trigger that will prompt you to perform the action without much thought. For example, you could try going for a walk after breakfast to boost your step count. A 2012 study on habit formation found that tacking a familiar cue onto a behavior you’d like to cultivate can help you stick to it overtime even when motivation wanes.

“Once initiation of the action is ‘transferred’ to external cues, dependence on conscious attention or motivational processes is reduced,” the study reads. “Therefore habits are likely to persist even after conscious motivation or interest dissipates.”

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to build exercising into your regular routine, you could try repeating it every Monday, Wednesday and Friday after you eat dinner. Your brain will quickly take the hint that this new behavior is here to stay, and you won’t experience as much resistance when it comes to getting active.

New Year’s Resolution Tip #3: Change the Scenery

A woman reading a book at a coffee shop. Changing your environment is a New Year's Resolution tip to help you reach your goals.

According to research from Wendy Wood, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Southern California’s Habit Lab, habits are formed through strong associations with a specific location. Therefore, trying to change your mind about something is often less effective than changing your location when it comes to breaking a bad habit.

For example, taking a different route to work could help you break that breakfast muffin habit if you want to spend less money. Or, if you find you’ve developed a habit of overeating or smoking while working from home, try switching it up and working at a local library, coffee shop or co-working space instead.

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The Author
Mackenzie Patterson is a Toronto-based writer and journalist. She enjoys long walks, iced coffee on tap, and discovering all the latest and greatest health and wellness trends.