Written by: Alex C.
Reviewed by: Emily J., MSc RD
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It’s common to give up on your New Year’s resolutions before the end of January. But instead of feeling discouraged when you get off track, what if you applied science-backed strategies to keep your healthy habits going?
“Ditch Your Resolution Day.”
You’ve probably read articles like this and this that discuss “Quitter’s Day” or “Ditch Your Resolution Day,” days in January that have been deemed the time when most people start to give up on their New Year’s resolutions [1, 2].
The buzz seems to have started when, in 2019, social fitness app Strava analyzed millions of member data points and found that most people quit their resolutions between the 2nd and 3rd week of January [3-5].
That said, this obsession with sticking to New Year’s resolutions isn’t new, and the results are well-studied [6, 7]. The data aren’t good — with many people quitting before the end of January.
But what if the narrative is the problem?
What if instead of obsessing over sticking to our resolutions and getting discouraged when we get off track, we came up with a new narrative?
It turns out this isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s supported by research.
Think of the last time you tried to learn something new, like how to cook a new dish, rock climb, do long division, or make pottery.
When we try something new for the first time, we’re usually not that good at it. It takes practice and building confidence in our abilities to master a new skill.
Habits are the same way. We expect that we can just start our jogging routine and do it for the rest of our lives, but research suggests that practice, confidence-building, and giving ourselves room for failure are actually key to building and maintaining those habits in the long run.
Yes, you read that right.
Research suggests that planning for setbacks and the specific mentality around setbacks can help you stick to your habits in the long term.
A 2021 study separated participants with a goal of eating healthier into 2 groups: one group was primed to consider external factors (like friends, work, and travel) that might disrupt their routine . Upon encountering a setback, this same group was also instructed to reflect on external factors that caused this and to remind themselves that they would continue to keep trying regardless of the setback.
The results found that the group that accounted for possible failures, reflected on causes of habit disruption, and abstained from blaming themselves personally when they experienced a setback were more likely to stick to their new goals.
Shift your thinking, plan for failure, and ditch the all-or-nothing mindset.
When you’re learning a new skill, it takes a while for you to feel confident in your abilities to do that skill well. The same is true with habits, though the terminology is a bit different. Experts of habit formation often refer to self-efficacy, or our positive belief that we have the capacity to do the necessary behaviors to achieve our goals .
Simply put: we need to develop confidence in our abilities to start cooking meals at home, for example, or learning new exercises to build strength, or whatever our goals may be.
Self-efficacy has long been understood to be a crucial component of building habits and creating meaningful, lasting health behavior change [10, 11].
While there are a number of things that can help improve your self-efficacy, repetition of habit and mindset shifts (like knowing you’re capable even if you fail a time or two) are important contributors to boosting confidence, skill, and adherence to habit.
In addition to the mindsets above, here are some research-backed strategies to help your habits stick:
Instead of fearing setbacks and having an “all-or-nothing” approach to habits, let’s embrace failure and even expect it. By doing so, you can build resilience for when setbacks do occur and keep making progress.
By planning to fail and having a confident mindset, we can turn “Quitters Day” into “New Day.”