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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Haws

New Year's Resolutions: Do They Work?

Updated: Apr 9

When the new year comes around I often find myself reflecting on what I would like to work on in relation to myself in the coming year ahead. As it turns out, apparently half of the population does the same thing. I started to wonder to myself, do New Year’s resolutions work? 

I dove into the research to find my answer and I was quite pleased with what I found. In an article by Oscarsson et al. (2020), they examined whether or not people found themselves successful in their resolutions, what kind of goals were met most, and whether or not having help with goal setting was helpful.

To understand the findings, it’s important to distinguish between two types of goals. In this study, Oscarsson et al. (2020) grouped the participant's resolutions as either approach-oriented or avoidance-oriented. Approach-oriented goals are goals where we seek to do or add something such as eat more vegetables, get more exercise, save more money etc. Avoidance-oriented goals are goals that involve avoidance or reduction of something such as curbing substance use, losing weight, or stopping shopping. 

As it turns out, according to Oscarsson et al. (2020) New Year's resolutions are effective more often than not. In addition to being effective for the majority of the sample, New Year's resolutions reduced most people’s procrastination, increased their self-efficacy and improved their quality of life. So far New Year’s resolutions are sounding like a great idea!

Next, Oscarsson et al. (2020) examined how much help was most ideal in the goal-setting process. As it turns out, having some support, but not too much, helps people most in meeting their New Year's resolution expectations. I can’t help but think that setting goals of this nature could be an effective thing to do in therapy. 

The last finding had to do with what type of goals, approaching or avoiding yield the most success. Oscarsson et al. (2020) found that people were more successful with approach-oriented goals than avoidance-oriented goals. This suggests that it's easier to add a new behaviour than it is to extinguish an old one. What kind of behaviours could you increase that could in turn lead to a decrease in others? For example, If I put more money in my savings account on payday, will it make it easier to refrain from shopping? Would exercising more help us indulge in eating less sweets? 


What I take from the research by Oscarsson et al. (2020) is that no matter what, setting New Year’s resolutions can be a very positive thing and have a lasting impact on your life. What I also get from this research is that if we accept a little help in setting our goals and approach-oriented goals we also have high hopes of being successful in reaching our goals. Based on these findings, I’m going to continue setting New Year's resolutions and I will be recommending that my clients and readers do the same. 


Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., & Rozental, A. (2020). A large-scale experiment on New Year's resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PloS one, 15(12), e0234097.

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