Making resolutions that stickK

Published: 10 January 2020

Do behaviour change principles hold the key to keeping New Year's resolutions?

The New Year can be a nice milestone to decide to make a change, but to ensure people don’t break their resolutions, organisations need to think about how to keep people on track.

It’s the start of a New Year and a new decade, and many people will be pledging to change one or more elements of their behaviour. According to research conducted by our client ForwardMotion, 35% of people planned to make a New Year’s resolution in 2020. The most popular resolutions are to exercise more and eat more healthily.

With these commitments, and ‘New Year New Me’ hype, comes an endless stream of gyms and health food companies willing to help you on your way to success (or mostly failure, given that most people give up on New Year’s resolutions by January 12th, according to Strava). But although these initial offers and gimmicks might work for encouraging behaviour change in the short-term, how can organisations drive behaviour change which is long-lasting?

1. Encourage a public commitment

There’s a reason why apps like Strava have become so popular. Individuals like telling people in their social network about their successes and gaining public recognition for accomplishments. For organisations campaigning for lasting behaviour change, it’s important to create forums where people can tell others about their successes. For public health initiatives, this could be through giving people the chance to be a case study, or by providing a public tally of people who are achieving their goals via a noticeboard.

2. Consider negative incentives

It’s easy to reward good behaviour with a nice meal or a trip out, but negative incentivisation could be more effective. Research has shown that people are more motivated to act at the prospect of a potential loss than they are by a potential gain – this principle is the basis for commitment app, stickK. If you fail to meet a goal you’ve set yourself, you have to donate money to what stickK terms ‘anti-charities’, a charity which you would be loath to give money to, such as a supporters club for your football team’s rivals.

3. Keep it fresh and issue regular reminders

The New Year can be a nice milestone to decide to make a change, but to ensure people don’t break their resolutions, organisations need to think about how to keep people on track. This could be through setting different challenges throughout the year, to ensure people are continually revisiting the goals they set themselves. A particularly good example of this is Love to Ride’s series of four different cycle challenges which take place in each season throughout the year.

These principles can apply to any form of behaviour change, be it activity, health, financial or transport related. Before organisations think about encouraging people to change their behaviour, they need to consider how they’ll ensure the change is for the long term. This means thinking about how they will support and encourage people beyond the first initial burst of engagement and excitement. As the saying should perhaps go: Resolutions are for life, not just for New Year.

Jennifer Evans

Senior Consultant

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