How to keep your New Year’s resolutions

This post is also available in Dutch.

On New Year’s Day, many of us resolved to make major changes in our lives. But in just a few weeks, most of us will fail to keep our resolutions. What can we do to actually keep our resolutions?

A previous blog post explained that often it’s difficult to keep our New Year’s resolutions because our willpower varies over time and circumstances. If we can’t rely on our willpower to determine our actions, then what can we employ? The answer is: our environment.

Our immediate environment determines our actions to a large extent. This review article in Science Magazine explains the most effective ways in which you can use your environment to drive your actions:

Make it easy to engage in desired behavior (and difficult to engage in undesired behavior)

For instance, when people were serving themselves food in a cafeteria, they put more salad on their plates when the salad bar was easier to reach compared to when it was further away. You could use this yourself if you put healthy foods in cabinets that are easy to reach in your kitchen and put unhealthy foods in places that are more difficult to reach.

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If you want to drink more water, keep a glass (or bottle) of water on your desk while you work. Because it’s right in front of you, you will drink more water. It’s that simple.

Image from L’imaGiraphe (en travaux)

Make your desired options available (and undesired options unavailable)

When more healthy foods and drinks were available in cafeterias and vending machines, people bought those more. It’s a simple but effective principle: for instance, you can apply it to healthy eating by buying healthy food and getting rid of unhealthy food.

Avoid unhelpful existing associations

You should be aware of what type of information you are exposed to. People ate more snacks while watching a movie when the ad breaks featured advertisements of food than if they saw non-food related ads. If you want to avoid unnecessary snacking or alcohol consumption, you can choose to watch movies without advertisements (e.g., rent a movie rather than watch it on TV).

Create helpful new associations

You can create positive associations with the objects of your resolutions. For instance, children tend to think of vegetables as not very tasty, so they avoid eating veggies. But when fun terms were used to name the vegetables or when stickers with cartoon characters were put on the vegetables, children were much more likely to eat them. Perhaps you can include healthy foods in delicious dishes, so you have positive associations with healthy items. Or you can arrange fruit in a beautiful bowl to make the arrangement likeable.

You can apply these principles to anything!

To guide your behavior in the direction you desire, you can make your preferred options easily accessible and available, and you can avoid unhelpful associations and strengthen helpful ones. The examples above are about healthy eating, but these principles can be used towards any goal. By applying these ideas, you are much more likely to keep your New Year’s resolutions. Good luck!

P.S. Of course, you can also create habits to help you reach your goals! Read about this here.

Written by Marisha. Edited by Mahur.

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