As a behavior designer, I have clients wanting to launch behavior change projects around New Year’s resolutions all the time. Seems like a perfect fit, right? Wrong.
In my opinion, the New Years is a terrible time to try to make behavior changes. Here’s why (plus how to make the most of New Year’s resolutions anyway).
1. The holidays demolish our routines
New Year’s resolutions date back at least 4000 years. The Babylonians, Romans, and others made Resolutions to be better people in the new year. They also both celebrated the New Year much like we do. The problem is that taking a break from regular work, spending more time with family, doing special rituals, partying into the night, sleeping in, doing special ceremonies, eating different foods at irregular times all add up to a major disruption of your regular routine. New Year’s resolutions are almost entirely about developing or breaking habits, which is about making targeted adjustments to your daily/weekly routine – a routine you’ve just spent several weeks completely messing up.
2. The holidays leave us scrambling to get back on routine
Now that you’ve totally screwed up your usual life routine with a wonderful few weeks of celebration, the beginning of the new year is a period of major re-entry shock. You’re actually re-establishing lot’s of good habits you had before December started. That takes a lot of effort and willpower. Why pick this time, out of all the weeks of the year, to try to add a brand new, difficult habit? Better to start a new habit once re-entry is complete.
3. The holidays devastate our willpower
The Babylonians and Romans (like most cultures) celebrate the new years with great celebrations including eating lots of rich foods, drinking, partying, staying up late and engaging in other rituals. All this leaves our body and mind far weaker than usual, a state in which willpower is lower than most other times of the year. That leaves us in a poor state to be taking on behavior changes. Why not wait until the hangover is over to take on a crucial change?
How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Work
I’d still agree there is a spirit in the air around New Years that has some benefit to behavior change. There is a feeling of “out with the old, in with the new”. In fact, January is named after the Roman god Janus
In the excitement and revelry of the new year celebrations, you feel like you could really make this a fresh new year with better behaviors. In fact, January is named after the Roman god Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new.
It’s great to catch that enthusiasm, but bottle up that inspiration until after the food, booze, sleep-deprivation hangover is over, and your regular life routine has been restored.
One option would be to write down they WHAT and the WHY as the inspiration strikes, and then schedule a half hour lunch sometime in the future to actually get re-inspired and really dig in.
The business case
I still think new years resolutions can be a great opportunity for organizations to promote either a product, post or press release. New Year’s is still a time when behavior change is on people’s minds and they’ll notice content related to that. Just don’t expect people to actually take part in any behavior change activities for very long. It’s just not the right time. Instead, capture interest and then contact them later to engage.