Did you set a New Year’s resolution? If so, have you given up on it yet or are you not willing to admit defeat? If you are a typical American, there’s about a 28 percent chance that you have already given up on your New Year's resolution by now–the 9th of January. 32 percent after two weeks, 42 percent after one month and 56 percent after six months. A study in Australia suggests that 80 percent fail within three months.

Graphic stock with permission
Source: Graphic stock with permission

Not keeping up with your New Year’s resolution is not something for which you should be embarrassed. Not only is it not unusual–it unfortunately is the norm.

Before we look at why most resolutions become dissolutions, let’s talk about the history, success rates, and goals of New Year's resolutions.

History

The concept of a New Year's resolution is not new. At the start of each year the Babylonians made promises to their gods that they would return borrowed objects and repay debts as did the ancient Romans promise the god Janus at the start of the year. These traditions have continued throughout the Middle Ages where each year knights would reaffirm their commitment to chivalry. The tradition of self-reflection and making a commitment to self-improvement has religious correlates in Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah and the watch night services in many Christian traditions.

Success Rates

As one might expect, the practice of making New Year resolutions are tremendously popular. It is estimated that about 41 percent of Americans usually make New Year resolutions while 42 percent never make them. A 2007 study from the University of Bristol showed that 88 percent of New Year's resolutions are not achieved, while a more recent study (January 1, 2017) from the Statistic Brain Research Institute showed that only 9.2 percent of 1273 respondents felt they have been successful in achieving their New Year's resolution. 48 percent claim to have infrequent success while over 42 percent admit that they never succeed at their resolution each year! Surprisingly, it appears that the achievement rate is higher for those in their twenties than for those over 50. This may well be confounded by the self-reported nature and the types of goals set or may be related to the fact that they were more likely to share their goals with family and friends and on social media.

Gender

One study found that women found it more difficult (79 percent) and were less likely to achieve their goals as compared to men (70 percent). Women were more likely to give up on their resolutions within three months. Women’s goals more often involved health, fitness, and traveling.

Goals

What are typical New Year's resolutions? A study in 2015 in Australia showed that health and fitness goals topped the list at 58 percent, followed by money at 15 percent, relationships at 8 percent, business and career at 7 percent, travel at 6 percent, and finally education.

GraphicStock with permission
Source: GraphicStock with permission

The most common type of resolutions for 2017 according to Statistics Brain Research institute are as follows:

  1. Self-improvement or education-related goals (44 percent) such as improve physical wellness, stop smoking, getting rid of bad habits, stop nail biting, stop drinking alcohol, learn a foreign language, take on a new habit, learn a new instrument, improve grades, get a better education, read more books, be more involved in community activities, be more spiritual, go to religious services more often, think more positively, laugh more, enjoy life more, less stress, manage time better, watch less TV, waste less time, perform better at job, get a better job, improve career, start own business, take a trip, be more organized, volunteer more, give more to charity, spend less time on social media.
     
  2. Money-related objectives such as get out of debt, save more money, make small investments.
     
  3. Weight-related resolutions such as eat healthy food, lose weight, gain muscle, eat less junk food.
     
  4. Relationship-related declarations (23 percent) such as make new friends, get along better with friends and family, spend more time with family, improve social skills, get engaged, get married, have children.

Why do they fail?

New Year's resolutions are really like many other goals that we set. In that way, it is not unusual to not achieve goals. Many people are not used to setting regular goals and as such don’t know how to go about doing it. Even though 52 percent were confident of success at the beginning, the success rate remains less than 10 percent. With that in mind, it has been suggested (finder.com.au New Year resolution study, 2015) that the most common reasons New Year's resolutions fail is that 35 percent set unrealistic goals, 33 percent didn’t keep track of their progress and almost one-fourth of the people forgot about it! Finally, 10 percent said they made too many resolutions.

Boost Your Resolutions

GraphicStock with permission
Source: GraphicStock with permission

1.  One Goal: Making New Year's resolutions is very simple. Achieving them is incredibly challenging. Old habits die hard. Changing our behavior is fraught with mental, physical, social, emotional and spiritual challenges. With this in mind, limit yourself to one New Year's resolution. If you’ve made more than one this year, take a serious look at them and try to eliminate the one that is less important to you based on #2 below.

2.  Value-Based Resolutions: When we set goals, they should be important–not just simple wants, but deep-seated, heartfelt, meaningful desires. How do we do this? Make your New Year's resolution value-based. For more details see my Psychology Today article, The Value of Goals. This will supply your “WHY." The underlying reason that you NEED to achieve this goal. To do this you don’t necessarily need to change your existing resolution. Simply ask yourself why you chose this goal. For example, if my resolution is to stop smoking, I could simply say because smoking is a bad habit. But it’s always been a bad habit and I do it everyday anyway. I’ve become numb to the “it’s a bad habit." Instead focus on the underlying values of family, health, traveling. Family is important to me and I want to live long enough to see my grandchildren grow up. I want to be able to play games with them and travel without an oxygen tank, like my father did. I want to be independent and not limited physically by emphysema and COPD. Concentrating on these important meanings in your life will invigorate your resolutions and not allow you to simply “forget” that you even made them

3.  Realism: One of the most frequent reasons resolutions become dissolutions is their lack of realism. “I’m going to be President of the company,” “I’m going to walk to work everyday,” “I’m never going to eat junk food.” While there are healthy components to each of these goals, they are obviously unrealistic in scope. Don’t use goals that include always or never. Unfortunately, for those who believe in a law of attraction, it is not true that every goal is attainable–you think and it happens. This is exactly how goal achievement fails (see my article in Psychology Today, The Truth About the Law of Attraction). Be optimistic and realistic. Be resolute to attain what is truly attainable by you–not a fantasized unrealistic version of you).

4.  Measurable: Now you are setting value-based, realistic goals. For example: “I’m going to lose weight.” Great! How much weight? Men engaged in setting small measurable goals such as lose one pound per week, were 22 percent more likely to achieve them as compared to setting general goals such as “lose some weight.” If you don’t specify exactly what your goal is, you will never know if you’ve achieved it. Measurable goals are motivating as you have a way to consistently gauge your progress.

5.  It’s About Time: By establishing a value-based, realistic, specific and measurable goal, you will also be better able to set a schedule as to how and when this resolution will come to pass. Letting it be a “sometime in the next year.” Will not suffice. Setting a timeline with small, mini-goals allows to you celebrate more often as those are achieved. Look at each goal or resolution as a domino. Pick an end date for goal achievement and break up your goal into smaller mini-goals–multiple dominos. Try to set some completion dates by which you will kick over those dominos. This will give you a great way to track your progress, maintain your focus and encourage you as you see that goals are being dominated!

6.  Plan: Now that we have a value-based, realistic, specific and measurable goal with a time-line to achieve mini-goals. What’s next? Make some solid plans about how this will all be achieved. Just like starting a business doesn’t require a business plan–unless of course you want it to be successful, so too with your resolution. Don’t just leave it to the universe (sorry law of attraction folks). It is your responsibility to make this happen. What steps will you take to accomplish this? What are the potential obstacles? How will you rise up to these challenges? Losing weight doesn’t just happen. What specific changes will you make in your diet or workout schedule? Just as with your resolution, make your plan very realistic.

7.  Advertise: 75 percent of those who achieved their New Year's resolutions felt that sharing their goals helped them succeed. When women made their goals public and got peer support, their chance of success improved 10 percent. Don’t keep your resolutions to yourself. Advertise them by telling your friends and family and consider mentioning your resolution on social media. When more people know about your goals, it makes it very difficult for you to forget about them and increases the pressure for you to achieve them. You’ve got a cheering section–take advantage of it.

8.  Celebration: As I mention above, celebrate your successes. By dividing up your resolution into smaller domino goals, gives you the opportunity to commend yourself for a job well done. When you dominate your goals, don’t minimize this achievement by quickly moving onto the next one. Take some time to reward yourself with a night on the town or a treat that is special to you. Mention it on that same social media and reap the benefits in praise.

We often mistakenly attribute successful goal achievement to being "lucky." Achieving New Year's resolutions is not a matter of luck. It’s a goal-setting skill that everyone can accomplish–please see my article in Psychology Today on 8 Habits of Highly Lucky People. Here’s to another fabulous year and wishing you much success in all of your hopes, dreams, goals, wishes, and aspirations.

Neil

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References

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703478704574612052322122442

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