New Year, New Resolutions: Do we have something to learn from behavioural sciences?

Garodia, Vidhi

Reading time: 6 minutes

It’s already been more than half a month into the New Year and for most of us, this implies a new start. Many of us fill our diaries with goals to achieve and resolutions to fulfill. But have you ever wondered why this happens? Why are people so inspired to pursue their goals at the start of a year? Researchers have termed this observation as a ‘fresh start effect’ that has a close relation with ‘temporal landmarks’. A research conducted by Dai, Milkman and Riis (2014), suggests that individuals have a higher tendency to pursue aspirational behaviour at the beginning of ‘new periods’ that indicate temporal landmarks such as a new year, a new week, a new study block, and so on and so forth. These landmarks segregate the passing of time and unlock new mental accounting periods. This helps individuals to disassociate themselves from the past happenings and focus on a bigger view, thus promoting them to fulfill their aspirations in the forthcoming period of time.

Behavioural studies also have a lot to say when it comes to achieving our aspirations. One such concept that is discussed in this article is the ‘Nudge’ theory. The theory was proposed by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness’. Nudge is ‘any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives’. According to Samuli and Ralph (2020), nudging can be turned into self- nudging and individuals themselves can act as their choice architects. Self-nudging is a mechanism that helps people achieve a higher level of personal autonomy. Employing self- nudging enables people to better the probability of their goal achievement.

As complex as it may sound, nudging is a useful mechanism and can be applied to many day- to-day activities to improve the outcomes of decisions. And this can help individuals come a step closer to achieving their yearly goals.

It is often observed that people form resolutions about staying fit and eating healthy. Self- deployed modifications in accessibility and defaults can help individuals achieve this goal of theirs. For example, to prevent oneself from eating unhealthy food, keeping the healthier options such as a fruit at the direct eye level in the kitchen cabinets can influence an individual’s decisions positively. To exercise daily, one can keep their shoes near their bed before sleeping, so it can act as a motivation to work-out in the morning. Another way individuals can employ self-nudging is via the means of technology. There are quite a few alarm apps that make it compulsory for people to get up and take a few steps to stop it from ringing again. This can prove to be beneficial for individuals who want to develop a habit of waking up at a specific time.

Self-nudging can also contribute to new year resolutions that aim towards academic improvement or developing habits such as reading or writing. This can be done in the form of prompts and reminders to self. Just putting up a note that chalks a study routine for the day and noting one’s progress with every agenda mentioned can go a long way as it constantly re-iterates the plan and helps an individual stick to it. Similarly, people can make use of a prompt that retells them that they need to read a certain number of pages before sleeping. They can stick it near their bed or on their study board. Another way individuals can remind themselves of these activities is via scheduling an email to oneself. These little efforts can help individuals create routines and patterns that eventually become easier to follow with time and come naturally to them in a longer-run.

Saving more is also a new year goal for many. Self-nudging can prove to be a very beneficial tool here as well. For example, enrolling oneself into schemes that automatically take some amount from an individual’s income for the purpose of saving may be of immense help. Research has shown that individuals prefer to stick with the default option, hence the probability to voluntarily opt out of these kinds of schemes diminish and lead to more savings for the future.

Therefore, it can be observed how a simple nudge can influence the actions of individuals in a massive way and lead to desirable outcomes. The above stated examples are just a few instances where nudging has been proved to be effective. These small changes can add up and create bigger changes that we often aim for while writing our resolutions. So the next time you're finding difficulty in materialising your yearly goals, consider self-nudging- it may make the task a bit easier! 


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