The first few weeks of 2023 will be stressful as we try to meet our New Year’s resolutions. Each new year brings a possibility for change with it, prompting New Year’s resolutions to be made, and broken, in a tradition in and of itself.

Some of the most common New Year’s resolutions made are fitness and health-based goals. Unfortunately, not all of these fitness resolutions are sustainable, and many flake on their intentions as the new year progresses. That’s because resolutions are often set without knowing the steps required to reach the end goal.

During the 2017 New Year, researchers based at Stockholm University examined the likelihood of individuals creating New Year’s resolutions and the rate at which these resolutions were followed. The most common goals set by participants were goals that involved physical health, weight loss, or eating. 

To get a closer look into this phenomenon, The Varsity interviewed Michael Inzlicht, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, to better understand why we set goals and how to improve them.

Societal influence may be a contributing factor to why fitness-based goals are so common. In an email to The Varsity, Inzlicht wrote, “Societal standards and ideals will certainly shape the goals that people set for themselves. As we live in a culture with a certain beauty ideal (e.g., being thin), people will aspire to this ideal, even [when] it is not healthy, possible, or desirable for any one person.”

“The vast majority of people do not meet their [New Year’s] resolutions; most people give up on them by the first week in February. So it is very common not to meet your personal goals,” wrote Inzlicht.

A solution to this is to set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART), which can be easily developed to create sustainable and achievable goals. Setting approach-oriented goals has also been proven to be a more effective tactic for successfully achieving resolutions than avoidance-oriented goals. For this New Year’s, try setting resolutions based on something you would like to start doing, rather than something you would like to stop.

When it comes to exercise- and diet-related resolutions, achieving the end result can be especially difficult. Inzlicht wrote, “Research suggests that while people can shed pounds for a little while… [they] typically regain their lost weight a short time after they lose it.”

Instead, Inzlicht suggests that “A much better goal is to eat more healthy foods without the added requirement of losing weight.” Further research suggests that maintaining a consistent activity level and choosing healthy eating is optimal when improving your overall well-being.

The process of achieving a resolution, or any goal, can be tedious and regularly requires ongoing effort. Throughout this process, keeping a positive outlook and understanding what achieving that goal would mean to you can be helpful. “We know that negative feedback (and you can think of not meeting a goal as negative feedback) can hurt self-efficacy and in some cases make people feel bad about themselves,” wrote Inzlicht. Positive self-talk and understanding that achieving a goal takes time can remedy feelings of failure when working toward resolutions.

Research shows that more support throughout the resolution-setting process and the ability to make sustainable and attainable goals improve the likelihood of meeting New Year’s resolutions. Having supportive people to motivate you and using SMART tactics can be fundamental.

It’s important to remember that setting New Year’s resolutions is an opportunity for personal development. “I think the act of reflecting on who one is and what one wants is not a bad thing. I actually think it is healthy,” Inzlicht wrote. This year, try working to achieve your resolutions by creating more sustainable goals.