Why New Year’s resolutions fail: Top 3 takeaways from a Swedish experiment

It’s common knowledge in 2021 that New Year’s resolutions tend to fail. But we continue to make them: 44% of people in the U.S. say they are likely to make New Year’s resolutions.

And COVID has expanded our set of goals. “Spending time more time with family/friends” and “spend less time on social media” appeared on the list of top resolutions for 2021, but not 2020, according to Statista. 

So how can we avoid New Year’s resolution failure?

Swedish researchers published the first large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions in 2020. There’s a lot to learn from it. 

The good news? More people succeed in their New Year’s resolutions than you might think. 55 percent of people considered themselves successful after 1 year.
Here’s what we learned about avoiding common pitfalls in New Year’s resolutions.

The top 3 reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail

1) Your resolution is to avoid something

Think about New Year’s resolutions as being “approach-based” or “avoidance-based.” 

  • “Improving physical health through exercise” is approach-based.
  • “Drink less alcohol” is avoidance-based.

58.9% of people who set approach-based resolutions considered themselves successful after 1 year, according to the Swedish study. 

Only 47.1% of those who had avoidance-based resolutions considered themselves successful.

Rather than removing things from your life, think about new habits that you can build. Instead of “use social media less,” consider “adding more mindfulness” to your routine. 

If you’re not sure which habit to choose, check out the Fabulous app. Developed by behavioral scientists at Duke University, Fabulous has guided journeys for common resolutions like exercising more, improving your sleep, and eating healthier.

2) You set too many deadlines

It’s often recommended to set goals that are “time-framed,” but be careful. Using deadlines is only helpful if they continue to motivate you—even if you miss one.

One group of participants in the study was asked to set interim goals. This group reported slightly less success than the group that did not set interim goals.

This suggests that setting more deadlines means more opportunities to miss one.

Rather than punish yourself, use your check-ins to track all the positive changes you have made. Using an app like Fabulous removes the guesswork in tracking your progress. It makes it easier to see just how much you’ve changed.

3) You have too little—or too much—support

You probably already know that you can’t achieve your goals alone. 

However, it’s also possible to have too much support. This surprised the researchers. They split the study participants into groups with different levels of support for their resolutions.

The group with only some support reported the highest levels of success. 

Why? Many potential reasons. But paying for a fancy course, for example, might lead to an increased sense of failure if you miss a few sessions.

The most important thing is to ask yourself: what kind of support makes you the most motivated?

A habit-building app may be the right level of support, as it is private, affordable, and immediate. The Fabulous app nudges you with motivation in a non-intrusive way. You can also connect with people on the exact same journey.

The big takeaway

There’s no shortcut to changing habits. With your resolution this year, consider a sustainable, long-term approach to changing your life: one that builds on your successes. 

Try Fabulous today for science-based, personalized support in building your and your team’s healthy habits!