It’s well known that New Year’s resolutions don’t have a high success rate. While many people opt to ditch the annual goal-setting event, about 40 to 45 percent of American adults set at least one resolution come New Year’s.
Unfortunately for many, the results turn into a pattern: January 1, we start off determined to follow through on our goals. Excited and energized, we think that this year will be different from the last, when our resolutions went by the wayside. But come February or even mid-January, the majority of us have abandoned our goals altogether.
So why do we continue to make resolutions every year even though so few of us follow through?
One reason is the allure of starting from scratch. “The beginning of the year offers a fresh start and a clean slate,” according to Nona Jordan, a coach who’s known as the “business yogini” and helps female entrepreneurs improve their business.
The idea of bettering ourselves is another motivator. “Most of us have a natural bent toward self-improvement,” said John Duffy, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism in Raising Teens and Tweens. And even though the New Year is an arbitrary date, Duffy explained that it “gives us time and a goal date to prepare for the change, to fire up for the shifts we plan to make.”
Moreover, it may have something to do with “Tradition! Tradition! Tradition,” as the characters in the musical Fiddler On The Roof famously sing. Setting New Year’s resolutions is believed to go as far back as Babylonian times. It’s said that Julius Caesar started the tradition of making resolutions on January 1st as a way to honor the Roman mythical god Janus, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past year and forward to the new year. Romans mostly made morality-based resolutions, such as seeking forgiveness from their enemies.
Wanting to make resolutions is a good thing, Jordan believes. “The fact that people keep making resolutions even when they don’t always follow through ultimately means that they have hope and a certain level of belief in their ability to change and be more of who they really want to be,” she said.
Some research confirms that setting a resolution can get you closer to your goals. One study found that 46 percent of individuals who made resolutions were successful compared to four percent who wanted to achieve a certain goal and considered it but didn’t actually create a resolution.
If you’d like to give resolution-making another go, check out our article on setting successful resolutions with insight from Jordan and Duffy on creating goals that’ll last throughout the year.
Norcross, J.C., Mrykalo, M.S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld lang syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 397-405.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Dec 2010
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Tartakovsky, M. (2010). Why We Make New Year’s Resolutions. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/12/28/why-we-make-new-years-resolutions/