New Research Reveals 8 Secrets That Will Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Succeed


A study by Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor at University of Hertfordshire, found 88% of people fail to achieve their New Year’s Resolutions. Yeah, almost nine out of ten.

Cynically, you could see these resolutions as a yearly exercise in self-delusion. The tradition where we all collectively decide to lie to ourselves in a more structured format. Often, they’re like annual subscriptions we buy for a better version of ourselves… only to realize we’re more into the free trial.

Why do these resolutions fail with the predictability of a dad joke? It’s like we’re all signing an invisible contract that says, “I hereby agree to overestimate my willpower and then beat myself up about it later.”

Okay, here’s the part where I tell you it doesn’t have to be this way: Reader, it doesn’t have to be this way.

There’s a ton of science on the subject so if we want to achieve these New Year’s Resolutions, we can — with just a few tweaks. Ready to actually make a change for the better in the new year?

Let’s get to it…


New Year’s Resolution — Singular

So, it’s January 1st. You’ve got your plan. This is going to be the year you finally become that person who does yoga at dawn, drinks two gallons of water a day, and learns Italian.


Be realistic. You can’t simultaneously become a gourmet chef, a marathon runner, and a fluent Mandarin speaker unless you’re also a fictional character.

As Wiseman discovered in his study: “Make only one resolution; your chances of success are greater when you channel energy into changing just one aspect of your behaviour.”

Choosing one resolution is realistic and do-able. It’s admitting you’re just a regular person who can maybe – just maybe – change one aspect of your life without setting everything else on fire. With just one resolution, your willpower isn’t spread thinner than the plot of a reality TV show. It’s not as taxing, not as hard to remember, and it allows you to channel all your energy into one, solitary goal.

So what else we do wrong when planning resolutions? Apologies in advance, I’m about to take all the fun out of this annual ritual…


Stop Fantasizing

Yes, dreaming about the new you, 20lbs lighter and saving lot of money, is fun. It’s like our brains throw a party, and reality isn’t invited.

But do fantasies give you the energy to achieve your goals? The answer is a resounding: Nope. Research shows fantasies steal the energy you need to achieve your goals.

When you fantasize about your glorious, goal-achieving future self, your brain gets all smug and satisfied, like it’s already done the hard work. You’re getting the reward before you’ve put in any effort and that kills your motivation.

New Year’s resolutions need less daydreaming and more doomsday prepping. Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University, says we need to spend that fantasizing time actually considering the obstacles we’ll face and developing a plan for overcoming them. That’s how we make our goals resilient and likely to happen.

Yes, I know I’m a party-pooper but achievement first, satisfaction later. Otherwise, there’s no achievement.

And this leads us to the next proven tip for success…


Make A Plan

A consistent thing Wiseman found among people who succeeded was they had a plan. Not too shocking but, truth is, we rarely spend enough time getting granular on the specifics of how these magic transformations will occur.

Real New Year’s resolutions need to be handled like you’re plotting a bank heist, not writing a list to Santa Claus. You’re the mastermind scheming to steal success from the heavily guarded vault of laziness and procrastination. It’s like Ocean’s Eleven, except you’re snatching your own future from your past self. (And your past self is a sneaky bugger who knows all your weaknesses.)

The secret? Be specific. Make that plan thorough and detailed. It’s not just about the ‘what’, but also the ‘how’. Your plan needs layers, like a lasagna of determination.

“I will eat healthier.” That’s not a plan; that’s a wish whispered into a well. You need to get into the nitty-gritty, like “I will eat three vegetables a day, and not just the ones on top of a pizza.”

And saying, “I’ll do it sometime” is the equivalent of saying, “I’ll do it in an alternate universe where I’m responsible.”

Make it concrete, address obstacles and write it down. Wiseman says the writing part is another thing correlated with success. Research shows writing about your goals makes you happier and makes you more likely to follow through with them.

So how ambitious should your resolution be? You’re going to like this one, I promise…


MVE: Minimum Viable Effort

Optimism is a beautiful thing, but so is sanity. When we’re too ambitious we’re much more likely to give up altogether.

So, at first, do the minimum. This isn’t pessimism or caving; this is actually optimal. The key to new habits is to initially do the minimum and be consistent. Stanford researcher BJ Fogg calls it “Minimum Viable Effort”.

Make the goal so small it’s easy – and so small you have no reasonable excuse not to act on it. (Fogg actually recommends flossing just one tooth to start a flossing habit.) Consistency is what you’re shooting for here so set goals so minuscule that they’re basically homeopathic.

Make it too simple not to do until it’s a habit. Then, with inertia on your side, expand. Here’s to a new year of minimal effort and maximal self-congratulation.

But what about getting rid of bad habits?


Don’t Eliminate Bad Habits. Replace Them.

The secret to breaking bad habits is to not try to eliminate them but to replace them. Swap your vices with slightly less damaging pastimes.

How? Maybe you want to spend less time on social media.

The first step is awareness. Instagram doesn’t magically appear in front of your eyeballs. Merely noticing yourself acting habitually is a big first step. That gives you the chance to decide.

Next step is to find your trigger. What starts you down the road to that habit? “I get bored and then I go to social media.”

Finally, replace. What are you going to do now when that trigger arises? Establish something concrete to take the place of the old habit. “I’m going to delete Instagram off my phone and download the Kindle app. When I get bored, I’ll read a book.”

Many people worry that they lack self-control. It’s a legitimate concern. So let’s eliminate the issue by leveraging laziness, something we all seem to have an infinite supply of…


Manipulate Context

In the previous example, I didn’t say you should just download the Kindle app. I said delete Instagram first. If you have to download and login to IG every time you want to use it, I guarantee you will use it less.

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard. This puts your impulsiveness at odds with your laziness.

Sculpt your living space into a bizarre obstacle course that nudges you, unwillingly, towards your goals. If you can make good habits take 20 seconds less time to perform and bad habits 20 seconds longer, you’ll likely see big changes in your behavior.

But what about a few weeks into January when you’re just tired of good behavior? That little energy light starts blinking, warning us that we’re running low on goal-achieving juice. You’re going to need some incentives…


Use Commitment Devices

It’s ironic. We all hate being told to do but we’ve all had moments where we wish someone would just tell us what to do.

Enter “commitment devices.” It’s Dr. Jekyll chaining himself to the wall before he turns into Mr. Hyde. Present-you doing things to limit future-you’s behavior.

Give $100 to a trusted friend. If you stick to your resolution, you get your money back. Fail, and that money gets donated to the opposing political party’s reelection fund. BINGO. Motivation.

Vary the specifics however you like. Point is, you’ve created an incentive and it’s out of your hands to manipulate. All you can do is succeed or fail in your goal.

When I describe commitment devices to many people they’re often scared and don’t want to use them. But the fact that it scares you means it’s more likely to work.

Want a tip that’s fun, un-scary, and largely acts without you noticing? I’m happy to indulge…


Leverage Friends

In my first book I talked about how peer pressure can be a good thing. In fact, it’s usually a good thing. But we don’t deliberately leverage this often enough.

Friends are one of our biggest influences and can be a potent tool for change. It’s simple: spend more time with the people you want to be and less time with the people you don’t want to be. Surround yourself with those who will unconsciously move you toward your desired self.

If you’re dining with a friend who orders a salad while you’re eyeing a double cheeseburger, it’s like a guilt trip served on a platter. Suddenly, your burger feels like a greasy embodiment of betrayal.

I’m over here using my bank statements as a makeshift coaster. Hang out with those fiscally responsible friends long enough, and suddenly you’re thinking about retirement funds and diversifying your assets. I don’t even know what an asset is, but now I want seven of them.

Okay, if I go on much longer then January 1st will already be here. Let’s round it up and cover what to do when you fumble…


Sum Up

Here’s how to make your New Year’s resolutions succeed:

  • New Year’s Resolution. Singular: When we try to chase too many North Stars at once, we end up like a confused moth in a lamp store. Pick one resolution and go all in.
  • Stop Fantasizing: Fantasizing about your goals is like binge-watching a TV show about marathons; it might feel productive, but you’re still just sitting on the couch. Stop dreaming, start scheming. Forget the fantasies and think about how you’ll overcome the obstacles ahead.
  • Make A Plan: People who make a plan actually stick to their resolutions. Shocking, I know. It’s like finding out water is wet or that cats are indifferent. Make that plan as specific as the person at Starbucks who wants a half-caf, soy latte, with two pumps of vanilla, light foam, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. And then write that plan down.
  • MVE: Start with the minimum viable effort and build. This approach is perfect for the modern world. Why? Because it’s built on the sturdy foundation of low expectations and achievable goals. It’s about setting the bar so low that you can’t help but trip over it into success. Then, once you’re consistent, up the ante.
  • Don’t Eliminate Bad Habits. Replace Them: You are a cat that claws the furniture. You need a scratching post.
  • Manipulate Context: Change your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard. Mold your context and then let it gently guide you toward the person you hope to be.
  • Use Commitment Devices: You give a friend a wad of cash, and they only give it back if you stick to your resolution. I don’t approve of bullying unless it is present-you tormenting future-you with the goal of self-improvement.
  • Leverage Friends: Peer pressure can be a good thing. Spend more time with the people you want to be. They’re like sentient Post-it notes, reminding you of what you need to do.

Ironically, studies show saying “I’ll never do that again” makes you even more likely to do that again.

You’re going to fumble your resolution(s). It’s as certain as death, taxes, and accidentally liking someone’s old photo while stalking them on social media.

And that’s perfectly okay. In Wiseman’s study, he found people who eventually succeeded messed up a little. The secret here? “Treat any failure as a temporary set-back rather than a reason to give up altogether.”

We treat resolutions like they’re sacred vows. We make them with the gravity of a knight swearing fealty to a king. But then, when we break them, we act like we’ve just betrayed the crown. “I ate a cookie at 3 AM. I have dishonored Clan Barker.”

No, you haven’t. You just ate a cookie. The diet is not blown yet. The diet is blown when you eat the one cookie and say “So much for that resolution” — and then devour the rest of the bag. Just forgive yourself and keep going.

There’s something undeniably heartwarming about New Year’s resolutions. It’s like every 1st of January, humanity collectively decides to give optimism another chance. The plans we make are more than just to-do lists; they’re love letters to the people we want to be.

In the end, it’s not just about the resolutions themselves. It’s about creating an environment where your better self can emerge, not through a dramatic transformation, but through a series of small, often clumsy steps toward a slightly better you. It’s about understanding and outsmarting our wonderfully human nature. It’s our hopeful heart singing in the face of our cynical brain, telling it to stuff it.

Happy New Year!


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