Ask an Expert: What is the Secret to Successful New Year’s Resolutions?

Katie Williamson
Dec 21, 2018 · 2 min read

Do you have a tricky environmental problem that would benefit from applying behavioral insights? Thinking of launching a new behavior change campaign and not sure where to start? Email Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment at behavior@rare.org, and we’ll send your questions to our staff and community of experts. We’ll share their responses in the following issue of our newsletter and on this blog page!

New Year’s Resolutions notoriously fail. How can we use behavioral insights to reverse the trend?

First of all, self control is hard! Here are three ideas I’d try:

1. Make an investment now that makes it easier to comply with the resolution in the future. For instance, suppose my resolution is to eat healthier or try out more plant-based meals. Signing up for a regular meal subscription box or service may be the perfect way to make this happen, since I make a single decision now (enrolling in the program), that affects my behavior for the rest of the year (making healthier meals each week).

2. Share the commitment — and success — with a friend or family member who you’d be embarrassed to disappoint or who could cheer you on to complete your goals. For example, I know that I’d be much more motivated to get outside regularly with the support of a friend who’s an outdoor enthusiast, and who then discusses my weekly walks or hikes with me. Any time my reputation is bound up with a resolution, I’m more likely to follow through.

3. If you’re already making yourself accountable, then it helps to choose “categorical” resolutions. That is, instead of pledging to eat less meat, only eat meat on weekends. Or, instead of pledging to volunteer more, pledge to always volunteer in a certain setting. Such categorical resolutions are not only easier to keep track of, they also facilitate accountability.

Erez Yoeli, Research Associate at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Director of the Applied Cooperation Team

Looking for more tips? Here are other good reads on New Year’s resolutions:

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In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

Katie Williamson

Written by

Behavior change enthusiast at Rare, environmentalist, baker, traveler, writer

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

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