Why most New Year’s resolutions fail — and a new approach to consider

Why most New Year’s resolutions fail — and a new approach to consider

There’s hope for your New Year’s resolutions to stick this year — if you take a new approach.

A public health initiative called The Healthy Monday Refresh wants to inspire people to not just think of a New Year’s resolution once a year, but instead to set goals every Monday and sustain them year-round, using key tools.  

The Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit initiative based in New York City that’s dedicated to starting the week off well so that people end chronic and preventable diseases, supports the movement.

“Research we’ve conducted with support from experts at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health points to the beginning of the week as the optimal time to promote healthy behaviors,” Ron Hernandez, managing director for The Monday Campaigns, told Fox News Digital in an interview.

“The data suggest that intentions for healthy behavior are synchronized on a weekly cycle, with Monday being the day people are most ‘open to buy’ health.”

Some 67 million American adults made New Year’s resolutions to improve their health in 2021, according to surveys.

Shot of a happy older couple enjoying a healthy lunch together.
Ron Hernandez, managing director for The Monday Campaigns, said the research they’ve conducted “points to the beginning of the week as the optimal time to promote healthy behaviors.”
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But of those who made healthy resolutions, 18% already failed by January and 41% were no longer on track with their top resolutions by July, according to a nationally representative survey by Data Decisions Group for The Monday Campaigns. 

Smart ways to form a new habit 

“If we think about the science behind habit formation, we can better understand why New Year’s resolutions are not the most effective way to change a habit,” Dr. Lama Bazzi, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City, told Fox News Digital. 

“Habits are a way for the brain to automate repeated patterns of behavior in order to ensure we use our awareness more efficiently throughout the day.”

To change a habit, said Bazzi, we should examine the motivation that precedes the routine — and identify the reward from practicing that routine. 

“For example, if I want to stop drinking alcohol on weekdays, I need to identify the cue (eg. a desire to decompress after work) that triggers the routine (eg. going to the local happy hour) and the reward (eg. relaxation and socialization).”

“Then, I need to consciously decide to replace the routine with another behavior from which I can derive similar satisfaction.”

A picture of a woman drinking a glass of red wine.
To change a habit, said Dr. Lama Bazzi, we should examine the motivation that precedes the routine — and identify the reward from practicing that routine.
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Know why most New Year’s resolutions fail

Many New Year’s resolutions involve changing habits, said Bazzi — but often, many people don’t “account for the fact that a habit cannot be eradicated but must be replaced with another habit.”

She added, “Otherwise, I have removed a source of satisfaction from my life without replacing it with a more productive behavior — and I am bound to revert to my maladaptive habits when cued by boredom, loneliness, or other negative emotions that often cue bad habits.”

“I need to consciously decide to replace the routine with another behavior from which I can derive similar satisfaction.”

New Year’s resolutions also tend to fail because there’s a lack of accountability. 

“As you can imagine, I am far more likely to succeed if I plan for the change in routine and implement ‘fail safes’ to ensure I succeed along the way,” Bazzi said.

“For example, before I change my routine, I would obtain a gym membership and elicit the support of friends, family, and coworkers.”

Also, most New Year’s resolutions are often vague — without a detailed road map to follow.

“I am far more likely to succeed at improving my diet if I set concrete, discrete and specific goals and break them down into bite-sized pieces,” Bazzi noted.

Think of each Monday as a mini New Year’s

The Monday Campaigns suggests that if people want long-term results for their health goals, they should think of each Monday as a mini New Year’s.

“By turning a single New Year’s resolution into regular ‘Healthy Monday Resolutions,’ people can create 52 opportunities to refresh intentions throughout the year, versus just one,” Hernandez of The Monday Campaigns told Fox News Digital. 

By holding ourselves accountable every week, we can examine our behavior “without judgment” — and make adjustments, say experts.

“This increased regular commitment may also help sustain healthy behavior over time.” 

The Monday Campaigns provides a free, five-week “New Year’s Refresh Package” on its website. It offers a variety of activities to get on track with goals, as well as the help that may be needed to commit to them.

‘Smaller, more reasonable goals’ work better

“First, with a Monday reset, you can set smaller, more reasonable goals and check in with yourself regarding your progress once weekly, instead of yearly with resolutions,” Bazzi said.

She said that by holding ourselves accountable every week, we can examine our behavior “without judgment” — and make adjustments accordingly.

By taking smaller steps toward change, there’s an opportunity to celebrate the small wins frequently — “which serves as a reward and replaces the reward derived from the undesirable habit.”

Bazzi added, “Small changes are the key to success.”

Know the ‘fresh-start effect’ and why it works

Behavioral scientist Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be,” found that many people are better at setting new goals around “temporal landmarks,” such as the start of the New Year, or what is called the “fresh-start effect.”

“Our team conducted a nationally representative survey in 2021 with Data Decisions Group, and a higher proportion of respondents described Monday as an opportunity for a ‘fresh start’ over those who ‘dread’ Mondays,” Hernandez told Fox News Digital.

Family working out at home.
By holding ourselves accountable every week, we can examine our behavior “without judgment” and make adjustments accordingly.
Getty Images

“More than 80% indicated that starting healthy behaviors such as physical activity or eating better on Monday would improve the likelihood of continuing the behavior for the rest of the week.”

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University also found that Monday holds a special significance within western cultures and may serve as a valuable day to send periodic health messages. 

“Small changes have an impact, not only on an individual level but on a global level,” Bazzi noted.

“By increasing our awareness of our habits and taking a few minutes, once a week, to celebrate our ability to transform and grow, we can strive toward greater change, every day,” she said. 

Anyone can learn more about the “New Year’s Refresh Package” on the website mondaycampaigns.org. 

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