In fact, people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their behavior than those who don’t.

The new year brings a fresh start with exciting possibilities. “New year, new you!” as people often say. Enter the New Year’s Resolution, a tradition in which people make promises to themselves at the start of every new year. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45% of Americans make new year’s resolutions.1 In fact, people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their behavior than those who don’t. 2 Yet despite this optimistic finding, only 8% of those who make new year’s resolutions actually complete what they promise.1 So why do we bother making new year’s resolutions if we’re probably going to break them later? Are there any ways to help us stick to our resolutions?

According to science, there are. Follow these 3 ways to keep your new year’s resolutions.

1. Don’t make too many.

In an experiment on willpower conducted at Stanford University, one group of undergraduates had to memorize a 2-digit number, and another group had to memorize 7 digits. Then the students were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented a choice of two different snacks: chocolate cake (unhealthy) or fruit salad (healthy). The students with 7 digits to remember were almost twice as likely to choose the cake as students given 2 digits.3

In other words, willpower is a limited mental resource. The part of the brain responsible for self-control, such as the ability to resist decadent desserts, is known as the pre-frontal cortex. However, the pre-frontal cortex also manages our focus, handles short term memory, and helps us solve abstract problems--responsibilities that involve a lot more than just new year’s resolutions.

People often make vast numbers of resolutions that span everything from smiling at strangers to exercising, and sometimes our brain just can’t handle everything. To avoid giving up on all your goals, focus on achieving one resolution at a time.

2. Be specific.

Health and nutrition researchers in California have found that setting specific goals leads to higher performance when compared to no goals or vague goals such as “Try your best.”4  For example, people are more likely to stick to diet plans when they want to lose 10 pounds by April, instead of just trying to lose as much weight as possible.

New year’s resolutions tend to be larger and more difficult to attain than regular goals. However, the harder the goal, the more necessary it is to make a plan to achieve that goal. Without a schedule, people rely on blind hope that their resolutions will somehow work out. But people who are diligent and very clear about when and what they want to achieve usually change their habits for the better.5

3. Be positive.

A review by the University of Chicago business school concludes that positive feedback causes people to be more dedicated to a new goal.6 Happy thoughts lead to happy results! Small rewards along the way can keep you motivated as you work towards a larger goal. In addition, telling friends and family about your objectives can increase your chances of success by having a positive support group and individuals to keep you accountable.

Scientific research provides strategies that prove it IS possible to achieve your new year’s resolutions. The road may be long and tough, but it wouldn’t be a new year’s resolution if it was easy to achieve. Take these tips and make 2016 your best year yet. New year, new you indeed.

Jenny Ren is a sophomore in Jones College at Rice University.


  1. New Years Resolution Statistics. (accessed 1/7/16), part of Statistic Brain Research Institute).

  2. Norcross J.C.; Mrykalo M.S.; Blagys M.D. Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology 2002, 58, 397-405.

  3. Lehrer, Jonah. Blame It on the Brain. (accessed 1/7/16), part of The Wall Street Journal.

  4. Shilts M.K.; Horowitz M.; Townsend, M.S. Goal setting as a strategy for dietary and physical activity behavior change: a review of the literature. The Science of Health Promotion 2004, 19, 81-93.

  5. Eurich, T. The Science Behind Successful New Year’s Resolutions. (accessed 1/7/16), part of Huffpost Healthy Living.

  6. Ebrahimi R. The Science Behind New Year’s Resolutions (and How to Use It to Achieve Yours). (accessed 1/7/16), part of Lifehacker.