The time-honored tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is deeply rooted in our modern culture. Perhaps because when it is a new year, we feel it’s a good time for us also to be renewed. We can change. We can become a better person.
Somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions (American Medical Association, 1995; Epcot Poll, 1985). But how many people actually keep at least one of their resolutions?
Contrary to popular opinion, most people who make New Year’s resolutions keep at least one of them far longer than is believed. For example, this article in U.S. News & World Report wrongly claims that 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. But it cites absolutely no research in making the claim (a claim that has now since been repeated by others).
According to the psychological research, however, you’re actually pretty likely to still have kept your New Year’s resolutions after six weeks.
In one study (Marlatt & Kaplan, 1972), researchers found that at the end of 15 weeks, 75 percent of the people said they were able to keep at least one of their resolutions. But 62 percent of women and 50 percent of men acknowledged breaking at least one of their New Year’s resolutions, according to their own self-report.
In a more recent study, Norcross et al. (1989) reported 77 percent of people studied kept their resolutions for at least one week. After a month, that number dropped to 55 percent, and after six months, only 40 percent were still keeping their resolutions. After two years, that number dropped to 19 percent.
In a 2002 study (Norcross et al.), researchers found that after six months, 46 percent of the people they studied had kept their New Year’s resolutions.
And compared to people who don’t make New Year’s resolutions but still want to change their behavior? You’re 10 times more likely to actually be successful in changing those behaviors you’ve resolved to change. That’s a pretty astounding number, and one that is far more persuasive than any other statistic.
Making a resolution sets you up for eventual success, even if it doesn’t happen in the first year. Most people who fail to keep their resolution the first time they try will continue making the same resolution in subsequent years (Norcross et al., 2002).
How to Keep Your Resolutions
Researchers have found that in order to be successful in keeping a New Year’s resolution, you need to be ready and willing to change. Resolutions forced on you by guilt or for other reasons won’t stick. You also need to feel that you have the ability and skills needed to keep your resolution. (Norcross & Vangarelli, 1989).
For instance, if you’re looking to eat more nutritional food, you need to actively research and understand why some food is not as good for you as other types of food. Then you should begin tracking your own nutritional intake to ensure you’re benefiting from your knowledge and commitment.
Porche (2014) recommends that if you want to keep your resolutions, you create an actual plan of action:
Plans of personal behavior change should include a broad goal that identifies the expected state, that is, in respect to health-related goals, the expected outcome or result of the activities. Once a goal is established, it is best to divide the goal in to SMART objectives. These SMART objectives, once accomplished, ensure that you [are] closer to establishing your goal. SMART objectives are:
You can break each goal into smaller, achievable objectives on a weekly or monthly basis. The key is that the more each objective meets these five characteristics, the more easily you’ll be able to measure and achieve change.
Let’s look at a concrete example.
In one study (Norcross et al., 2002), researchers found that weight loss, taking up a regular exercise program, and quitting smoking, were the three most common resolutions. For weight loss as the goal, we would set a small, achievable number in a specific time period — say 5 lbs. in two months. To achieve this goal, you would need to find specific, measurable ways you could reduce your calorie intake every day (or every week).
That’s what programs such as Weight Watchers help a person do, to become far more mindful about their daily calorie intake at every meal and snack time. Because calorie counting can be difficult and time-consuming, Weight Watchers assign simple point values to different foods. A person enrolled in Weight Watchers sets a daily point limit, and can eat foods up to that limit each day. Since your Weight Watchers daily points total will be lower than your traditional calorie intake, you will usually lose weight over time adhering to the program.
This is far more likely to work than the general goal: “I want to lose weight in 2018.” How much weight? Over what period of time? What actionable steps are you taking to achieve your goal? You see what I mean?
Articles that provide additional suggestions for helping to keep your New Year’s resolutions include:
- 10 Sure Ways to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
- 6 Ways to Create (and Keep) New Year’s Resolutions in 2017
- 5 Easy Tips for Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions
Good luck in sticking with your resolutions this year! You can do it.
American Medical Association. (1995). New Year’s resolution survey.
Epcot Poll. (1985). Resolutions not kept long by most Americans. Lake Buena Vista, FL: Walt Disney World.
Marlatt, A.G. & Kaplan, B.E. (1972). Self-initiated attempts to change behavior: A study of New Year’s resolutions. Psychological Reports, 30, 123-131.
Norcross, JC, Mrykalo, MS, Blagys, MD. (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
Norcross, JC, Ratzin, AC, & Payne, D. (1989). Ringing in the New Year; The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14, 205-212.
Norcross, JC & Vangarelli, DJ. (1989). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1, 127-134.
Porche, Demetrius J. (2014). After the resolution: Sustaining the change. American Journal of Men’s Health, 8, 97.