Why many Americans are setting 'micro-goals' instead of lofty resolutions in 2021

If you've already decided to abandon a 2021 resolution to start an elaborate new diet, meal prep or shell out for that online fitness membership, you're ahead of the game.

New research shows more than half of Americans polled are actually forgoing exclusively setting health-related New Year's resolutions in favor of a new kind of goal.

After close to a year of pandemic-induced self-improvement projects of varying success, a new study of 2,000 Americans revealed that 67% are instead making multiple, more achievable "micro-goals" for 2021, with the average respondent planning to set 12 of these.

A full six in 10 Americans have never kept a New Year's resolution related to their health. And while that collective track record might seem dismal for anyone hoping to improve their wellness after a year that has been so intensely focused on public health, consumers are starting small.

Top micro-goals included eating less takeout (38%), maintaining one's weight (38%) and eating more nutritious lunches (35%) while working remotely.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of FreshlyFit, the survey also examined the implications of these more realistic resolutions.

When it came to why respondents were choosing to pursue these micro-goals, the fact that smaller goals are more achievable on a day-to-day basis (32%) and over the long term (29%) were common reasons.

Additionally, self-improvement projects have already become something of a routine during the pandemic -- and 57% say that more than half of these projects were unsuccessful -- so it's possible many are experiencing fatigue from this.

As for the nature of those self-improvement projects, new exercise routines were in order for 44% of respondents since the beginning of the pandemic, and cooking healthier meals, or meal prepping, was attempted by 43%.

And the latter proved to be a particularly galling goal for 14% of those who tried it, who say they quit cooking their meals in advance within a month.

Bland flavors (44%) and the cleaning of extra pots and pans it required (42%) were the biggest culprits contributing to the derailing of this goal in 2020.

"When it comes to initiating any new routine, starting small can make a big impact," said Freshly's Director of Nutrition, Dr. Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS.

"That's especially true when it comes to eating better. Attempting to overhaul your diet or become a meal prep master overnight -- as is too often the case with New Year's resolutions --  is an uphill battle, so realistic resolutions or 'micro-goals' could be a great tool to reorient your mindset towards more sustainable healthy habits in 2021."

Sustainability could be key for respondents looking to reverse what is likely a side effect of being home more often during the pandemic: weight gain. The average respondent reported gaining 14 pounds since the start of the pandemic (approximately February 2020).

Yet 67% percent agreed that the uncertainty surrounding the permanent re-opening of gyms means that eating better is more important than ever this year. Many already ditched the gym altogether, 72% of people have forgone their in-person gym workouts with 28% opting for at-home alternatives.

But even fueling up for at-home workouts can prove challenging.

Of those who are exercising at home, 31% are drinking smoothies, 25% are having a protein shake, and 19% are eating protein bars - yet only 2% are consuming meals before a workout.

Post-workout, 27% have been resorting to protein bars, while 26% have been drinking smoothies, and 25% are consuming protein shakes. Only 10% of respondents have actually eaten a real meal.

For those who choose these quick fixes, 37% cite the reason being the convenience of pre-prepared fuel, while 23% say the barrier is the time required to create a full meal, and 31% think this is the healthiest option for them.

"We're always trying to make healthy choices fit more easily into your life - not the other way around," added Mike Wystrach, Freshly founder and CEO, who recently launched FreshlyFit, a line of nutritionist-crafted ready-to-eat meals as an alternative to meal prep.

"Taking one small step each day to improve your nutrition, such as substituting a balanced, pre-made meal at home to keep you fueled instead of grabbing fast food on the run, is a great way to start the year off on the right note."