Can New Year’s resolutions lead to better health and wealth?

December 20, 2019

New Year’s resolutions: Everyone makes them, and many of us break them. Quitting smoking, exercising more frequently or committing to better financial decisions? Sticking to your New Year’s resolutions is easier with expert help and USC scholars have research on their side.

Contact: Jenesse Miller (213) 810-8554 or

Forget everything you know about habits

“The most popular New Year’s resolutions involve health and finances. We keep making these resolutions despite realizing that most won’t actually succeed.

“Habits have a lot to do with this failure. Physical and financial health require repeated behavior — more than just eating salads for a week or sticking to a budget for a month. And we don’t understand how our habits work. In fact, we are not supposed to understand them. Habits are part of our unconscious mind. It’s not possible to introspect about our habits, and much of what is written about them simply isn’t true. Fortunately, science has begun to shed light on how they form and change.”

Wendy Wood is Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Marshall School of Business. She is an expert in how we form and change our habits and the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick.

Contact: or (213) 740-5504

Quitting nicotine is tough but possible (and worth it)

“Newer research is showing the negative impacts of nicotine in any form in regard to lung function, facilitating cancer and contributing to heart disease, among other hazards. One has to decide that they don’t want to keep hammering themselves with smoke, vapor or other intake. Anyone can quit; one just really needs to want to and take the time.

“The bottom line is action, like getting rid of all evidence of nicotine products from the house and keeping busy doing other things. Hanging out with non-users as much as possible, drinking lots of water every day for a couple of weeks, doing some exercise and actually trying to learn relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation may help.”

Steven Sussman is a professor of preventive medicine and psychology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He is an expert on addictions, drug use and stop-smoking programs.

Contact: or (323) 442-8220

Less specific goals may be key to weight loss

“Try to be realistic. If the goal seems unachievable from the beginning then your chances of being successful will decrease. Research also shows that making a goal less specific may actually increase your chances of reaching your objective. For example, it might be easier to maintain a positive attitude if your goal is to lose 5 to 10 pounds, as opposed to having a specific goal of 10 pounds.

“Choose an activity that you like. Maintenance of an exercise program is linked to enjoyment of the activity. So if you like dancing, take a dance class. Try to include friends and family in your activities, which will improve your chances of maintaining an exercise routine.”

Lorraine Turcotte is a professor of biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her research goals include better understanding the signaling factors that regulate metabolism in health and disease and how to improve human performance.

Contact: or (213) 740-8527

Start early, be consistent are rules for money and health

“Instead of imagining yourself as a healthy, happy retiree in 30 or 40 years, ask yourself what actions you can take today to be healthier, this week to be happier and this month to save more.

“Instead of imagining only how great it will feel to have attained your goals, remember times in which you slogged through difficulties and took on challenges. Working on important goals is difficult and entails setbacks, obstacles and backtracking, but people get better at picking themselves up and getting back on track with practice.

“Remind yourself that compound interest really works. Starting early and being consistent really matters, whether the result is a fatter investment portfolio, a stronger muscle core or a better outlook on life. Each of these principles is outlined in a general framework, identity-based motivation, that can help people leverage their hopes into movement on the path of life.”

Daphna Oyserman is a Dean’s Professor of Psychology and a professor of education and communication at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her research examines how small changes in context can shift mindsets.

Contact: or (213) 740-2219

Photo via Pixabay.