Given the way 2020 has gone–a global pandemic, record-setting wildfires in California and Australia, and a massive chemical explosion in Beirut, amongst others–the progress you’ve made on the goals and intentions you set at the beginning of the year may still stand at a paltry 0%. Thankfully, though, the year is ending. With that comes the promise of a brand new year–a chance to reinvent yourself, which means that there's no better time than now to sit down and come up with a brand new list of New Year's Resolutions to kickstart 2021. It’s going to be a better year. Promise.
To inspire you, here’s a list of the top 5 most popular resolutions, their benefits, and not forgetting… helpful tips on how you can see them through to the end (research shows that approximately 80% of resolutions fail by February!) (1)
What are the most popular New Year’s resolutions?
#1 – Eat healthier
Like many others living in today's fast-paced society fixated on productivity, you may not have time to prepare your own meals at home. The result? Frequent dining-out on calorie-dense, sugar-laden foods. And this can contribute to the likelihood of becoming overweight, which can, in turn, increase your risk of developing several undesirable chronic diseases–such as heart disease, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (i.e. type 2 diabetes), and some cancers (2, 3, 4, 5).
Ultimately, eating a healthful diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables of many colors, whole grains and starches, good fats, and lean proteins is fundamental to good health and well-being (6). So, is it really a surprise that ‘eat healthier’ tends to be one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions around?
#2 – Exercise more
Here's the truth. Insufficient physical activity is a global problem. According to a World Health Organization report published in The Lancet Global Health journal, at least 1.4 billion adults are putting themselves at risk for chronic disease (e.g. heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer) because of their lack of exercise (7). So–be honest with yourself. Have you been too sedentary throughout the year (or your life)?
Just for reference, the WHO’s recommended physical activity guidelines are as follows: healthy adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity) per week, plus at least two muscle-strengthening days (8). If you’ve fallen short on these recommendations, then it’s time to add ‘exercise more’ to your list of 2021 resolutions.
#3 – Become more financially prudent
This may surprise you, but living paycheck to paycheck is disturbingly common. To be specific, according to Charles Schwab’s 2019 Modern Wealth Index Survey, 59% of adults in the United States admit to barely scrapping by (9). Close to half of them struggle with credit card debt, and only 38% have an emergency fund. Worse still, this phenomenon is not only observed in the lower-income earners. A study by global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson highlighted that 18% of employees making more than $100,000 annually live paycheck to paycheck (10).
And that's dangerous. As the year 2020 has so kindly shown, there are no guarantees in life–the unfortunate reality is that you may not be guaranteed a paycheck the next month in these harsh economic times. Thus, explaining why financial prudence is so essential. So… If you don't have emergency funds set aside, it's time to make smarter choices with your money.
#4 – Quit smoking
Tobacco use has reached epidemic proportions worldwide–there are now 1.3 billion tobacco users!–despite efforts to reverse smoking trends, the problem only seems to be getting bigger each year (11). And that’s incredibly worrying. No matter how you look at it, smoking damages nearly every organ in the body (12, 13, 14, 15). Studies also show that life expectancy is at least ten years less for smokers compared with nonsmokers. Those who light up are also at increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, lung conditions, and other severe health conditions.
Wish to live longer? Then quitting smoking may just be the best thing you could do in 2021. It's not all about your health, either. When you quit, you'll also protect your friends and family (i.e. loved ones) from dangerous secondhand smoke (16, 17).
#5 – Read more
Quick question. Is the only form of reading you do these days centered around social media updates (i.e. tweets, Instagram captions, Facebook updates, etc.)? Yes? Then you're missing out on all the physical and mental health benefits that reading can bring you! A growing body of research shows that keeping your mind engaged–through activities like reading–as you grow older, is crucial to preventing age-related cognitive declines (18, 19). And the sooner you start, the better. A 2013 study found that people who’ve engaged in mentally stimulating activities all their lives were less likely to develop the lesions, plaques, and tau-protein tangles found in the brains of people with dementia (20).
And if you've been struggling with an overwhelming sense of anxiety (thanks to everything that's happened), reading can be the perfect solution for you. A 2009 study found that just 30 minutes of reading lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and psychological distress just as effectively as yoga and humor did (21). Best of all? A long-term study found that individuals who read books survived around two years longer than those who either didn't read or only read magazines and other media (22)! If you wish to live longer and better, then ‘reading more’ definitely deserves a place on your list of New Year’s resolutions!
How to (actually) stick to your New Year’s Resolutions
Don’t want to be part of the 80% who fail at sticking to their New Year’s resolutions? Here are a few tips that’ll help set you up for success.
Remember the acronym, ‘SMART’
The more specific you are with your resolutions, the higher your chance of succeeding. Let's say your goal for 2021 is to 'save money.' But how? And how much? Without some definable parameters, your goal can seem too lofty and unachievable. This is where the acronym 'SMART' comes in (23):
- Specific – Your New Year's resolution should be as clear as possible. Set a concrete goal. Instead of merely saying, "I want to save more money," add in details. For example, "I'm going to save money by cutting down on my online shopping expenditure."
- Measurable – You want to be able to measure the progress you’ve made. So, as with your savings goal, make sure there’s a way you can log your progress, be it in a mobile phone app or a physical journal.
- Achievable – Taking too big a step too fast (e.g. 1 million dollars by the end of the year) can leave you frustrated. Instead, be reasonable. Start from a few hundred dollars to start. And if that’s easy, you can slide that number up gradually.
- Relevant – Make sure the resolution you make is relevant to you. Link your immediate goal to a longer-term aim. For example, saving up money can help you better prepare for that house you want to buy in 3 years.
- Time-bound – As with ‘achievable,’ you want to ensure that the timeline toward your goal is realistic, too. Give yourself time to achieve your overarching resolution (i.e. save more money) with lots of intermediate goals set up along the way (e.g. $1,000 in 3 months, $5000 in 6 months, etc.)
Make your resolutions public
Research shows that you’re more likely to achieve your resolutions when you make them public (24). Sharing your aspirations holds you accountable, so it’s much harder to back out. So–tell your loved ones about your New Year’s resolutions, and get them to check in on your progress regularly throughout the year. Better yet, get them on board, so you're all working toward the same goals!
Write down your goals
The physical act of putting pen to paper can help you feel a greater sense of accountability and, thus, increase your chances of actually accomplishing them in the upcoming year (25)! And you’re not just limited to a journal, too. You can choose to post your resolutions on your fridge, write them on the dressing table’s mirror, or even stick a post-it note on your laptop. There are plenty of ways to do it.
Remember that it’s OK to slip up (but remember to get back on track!)
Faltering on your New Year's resolution is perfectly fine. What's not OK, however, is if you stop trying after a misstep. If you've messed up, acknowledge the mistake, and figure out how you can prevent it again! Ultimately, as Henry Ford said: "Whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you're right." Common New Year's resolutions–including developing better eating habits, staying physically active, and practicing financial prudence–are all lifestyle changes that are worth sticking with. So–do it your best! You've got this.