4 min read

5 Scientific Rules for Making & Breaking Goals in 2023

Only 9% of people complete their New Year's resolutions. Three in four last the first week, and the remaining majority slug along until Feb. Despite the best intentions and stark awareness of bad habit haunts, it can feel overwhelming to carve such drastic change. Most are weighed down by self doubt, and many unknowingly set up for failure before they even begin. We offer some science backed tips to take back control, use your brain to your advantage, and ensure you're on the right side of the stats this year.


  1. Unleash the power of habit triggers

Trying to remove a bad habit whilst keeping all its triggers is like trying to run up the downward flowing escalator. You might walk past the deliciously smelling donut shop once, but chances are you’ll be dipping in for a donut and out of your giving-up pledge by the first week of Jan. Science backs that removing this unwanted habit starts with replacing the cue, which kickstarts the craving, response and reward cycle of habits.

So whether it's re-routing from the wafting donut smell of a cafe on your usual walk home, or turning of phone notifications before bed- utilising time, location and social cues is a powerful place to start when changing our behaviours. Removing the temptation and craving for things we want to avoid, but somehow always find ourselves doing.

Understanding how cues trigger automatic behaviours in this way, allows us to use this brain circuit to our advantage. It could be altering the contents of your snack drawer, the reachability of your journal or the proximity of your running shoes to the cosy looking bed. But regardless, implementing new cues can be a powerful way to trigger these new, healthier and desired habits. Phasing out the bad and phasing in the good, to ultimately set you on your track for success.

2. Replace don’t avoid

People who think about quitting chocolate, ultimately end up thinking about chocolate. Same goes for smoking, or alcohol or Netflix binges during alloted gym time. Studies have revealed we don’t just stop there. In swearing off something and making it forbidden, we actually make ourselves obsess and ruminate, and then binge and consume more.

If you get rid of your daily chocolate fix you leave a void in your afternoon where you could instead foster change with a healthier but enjoyable alternative. Replacing reduction with abstinence instead moves away from the all or nothing mentality. This ultimately encourages the inevitable binge and give up on your new year goals. In crafting new habits aligned with your goals rather than all focus on giving up, you’ll also feel more empowered, more motivated and create more sustainable and realistic change.

3. Get emotional with the why

The thought of the summer shred might get you out of bed early one morning. It might even do two. Or, if you're having a motivated week, you might smash through all your targets. But in having a superficial ‘why’, you become reliant on flaky motivation and willpower, rather than a commitment to something running deeper.

For exercise, it might be re-focusing on health gains, longevity and seeing your kids grow up which gets you out of bed more consistently than the prospect of a gleaming six-pack. The aesthetics might be a bonus and motivating factor, but in getting emotional with your fundamental whys, you're more likely to get through your goals even on the tougher, unmotivated days.

4. Rewards

Having huge goals is great, but if we set the sights too high we get bogged down in relentless effort with no glimpse of reinforcing rewards. The alternative, of instant gratification from a bad habit, can become all too tempting when it's all pain and no gain from the get go. Setting small targets fosters greater sense of accomplishment, and makes us feel like we can achieve those bigger goals. With even day to day implementation of small rewards generating positive feedback loops in the brain, and encouraging us to repeat positive behaviours.

Whether it's a yummy healthy smoothie after your workout, an hour of your favourite show whilst you cook a nourishing meal or a guilt-free scroll after you’ve completed another segment of your online will- give yourself things to look forward to on mini-completions. Ensuring your walking up the right escalator on your journey to reaching the bigger-picture destination at the top.

5. Get Social

Research suggests we’re 65% more likely to achieve our goals with an accountability partner. So grab a running buddy, someone to shop with or a mere check-in partner to text with. It can make the process more enjoyable, as well as create that extra incentive to get it done.

At the end of the day the responsibility still lies with you, but it's yet another layer of accountability and consequences to get your brain working in your favour.

Make a start right now

Get started with Safewill today; to kickstart the New Year right with some organisation ticks. For a one-to-one discussion with one of our experts to talk through your options, give us a call on 1800 103 310 , or start a chat with us online.

Last updated 03rd January 2023
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Hannah Comiskey
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