January 02, 2020
4 min read

‘Focus on fun’: Reversing the trend of broken New Year’s resolutions

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Kaitlin Wooley 
Kaitlin Woolley
Bettina Hochli 
Bettina Höchli

By the middle of February, some 80% of people will have broken their New Year’s resolutions, a clinical psychologist wrote in U.S. News and World Report.

This high percentage of resolution breakers may be attributable to how long it takes the person to see the benefits of their resolution, according to Kaitlin Woolley, MBA, of Cornell University's Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Woolley, who is not affiliated with the U.S. News and World Report article, and colleague Ayelet Fishbach, PhD, of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, previously examined the association between rewards and adherence to long-term goals or resolutions.

“In our research, we find that people set resolutions, and set most long-term goals, with a focus on delayed outcomes,” Woolley told Healio Primary Care. “For example, people set a resolution to exercise more in the new year, or eat healthier in the new year, so that they can achieve improved health down the road. But focusing on these delayed outcomes is not the best predictor of success. Those who are most successful in keeping their resolutions make sure the experience is positive by making sure that there are immediate rewards.”

Research shows that one of the most popular New Year's resolutions is to lose weight. But by the middle of February, some 80% of people will have broken their New Year’s resolutions, a clinical psychologist wrote in U.S. News and World Report.

When advising patients on their New Year’s resolutions, Woolley said that physicians should suggest to “focus on fun when starting a new health behavior.”

“For example, if someone needs to start a new workout routine, they should try and find ways to make exercising enjoyable,” she said. “If someone is embarking on a new healthy eating regime, rather than focus on the benefits of eating healthily for long-term health, people can focus on finding foods that are both healthy and tasty.”

Bettina Höchli, MS, PhD candidate at the University of Bern, Switzerland, and co-author of “Making New Year’s resolution that stick,” a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, agreed that keeping a New Year’s resolution should be a fun experience.

“Our self-regulatory resources are limited,” she told Healio Primary Care. “If you need a lot of effort to pursue your resolution, if your resolution is too challenging, and you have to conquer your inner self every time you engage in a goal-related action, you’re likely to abandon the goal in stressful times. Thus, [have patients] start with a resolution that doesn’t require too much effort and that they actually like doing.”

A survey that appeared in Inc. and Wooley’s research revealed that some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions are quitting smoking, dieting or eating healthier, exercising more, cutting back on drinking and participating in activities that could reduce stress. Below, Healio Primary Care provides some of its previous coverage in each of these areas. - by Janel Miller

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As the body of research validating the health benefits of yoga continues to grow, the ancient practice is becoming increasingly popular as a method to improve overall health. An expert told Healio that incorporating yoga into the health care plan may benefit patients with varying conditions, such as chronic stress, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, malaise, cancer, scoliosis, autoimmune disorders, chronic pain, psoriasis, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, grief, trauma and PTSD, as well as those who are healthy. Read more.


Economy P. 10 Top New Year's resolutions for success and happiness in 2019. https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/10-top-new-years-resolutions-for-success-happiness-in-2019.html. Accessed Dec. 24, 2019.

Höchli B, et al. Appl Psychol Health Well Being. 2019; doi: 10.1111/aphw.12172.

Luciani J. Why 80 percent of New Year's resolutions fail. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail, Accessed Dec. 20, 2019.

Wooley K, Fishbach A. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2017;doi:10.1177/0146167216676480.

Disclosures : Healio Primary Care could not confirm Höchli’s relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication. Wooley reports no relevant financial disclosures.