For me, New Year’s Resolutions are a time to start over again. All of the “to do” lists that I made last year don’t matter anymore. I did some things well, I did some things poorly. I always had the best of intentions and some worked out well. Others crashed and burned.
But, once again, I say to myself, this year will be different!!
Of course, with New Year’s resolutions, the next question is obvious: Do they actually work? Do they make a difference? Talk radio brings a plethora of opinions on the topic, but what does the research say? Fortunately, researchers in Pennsylvania followed a group of New Year’s resolution makers and a group who refused to make them, and tracked what happened in the following weeks (Norcross, Mrykalo, & Blagys (2002). Here’s what they found:
· 41% of the people randomly contacted by phone were making New Year’s resolutions for the coming year. The other people had personal hopes for the coming year, but they were not committing themselves to any formal resolutions.
· The top resolutions were weight loss (31%), exercise (15%), and smoking reduction (12%).
· People generally continued to keep their New Year’s Resolutions. At 1-2 weeks, 71% of the people had kept their resolutions, at 3 months, 50% had kept them, at 6 months, 46% had kept them. Another study (Norcross, Ratzin, & Payne, 1989) found that at two years, 19% of the resolutions were still being kept. Not bad considering the difficult areas people chose to focus on. The people who kept their resolutions had, of course, suffered relapses but persisted in their goals over the multiple weeks.
· People who didn’t set resolutions faired much worse. At 1-2 weeks, 51% of the people had kept their resolutions, at 3 months, 16% had kept them, at 6 months, 4% had kept them.
The researchers went on to study what made the difference between the people who kept their New Year’s resolutions and the people who didn’t. Three attitudes at the very beginning made a difference:
· Readiness for change (They were committed to making the change for themselves not for others)
· Efficacy that they could make changes in their lives
· Efficacy that they could maintain their resolve and persist through difficult times
Four attitudes discriminated people who kept their resolutions at weeks 3 & 4. These included:
· Stimulus control: Keeping things around them to remind them of their goals and not to give into problem behaviors
· Avoidance: Avoiding situations that could tempt them to break their resolutions
· Willpower: Resolving to stick with it
· Avoiding problem thinking: Surprising, the less time that spent thinking about how the problem could hurt them, the better off they were
A meta-analysis of what allows people to keep personal resolutions and two follow-up studies identified two additional dimensions that were critical (Koestner, Lekes, Powers & Chicoine, 2002):
· Self-concordance: the extent to which a goal reflects personal interests and values versus something one feels compelled to do by external pressures.
· Implementation intentions: formulating a well-elaborated action plan about what you will do in tempting situations or in situations that will elicit the desired behavior.
So, resolutions do make a difference! As you begin the New Year, take a few minutes to reflection on some of the following questions and think about how you want this year to play out. Choose the ones that are the most fun and skip over the others. Make your resolutions about the freedom to be someone new, not about beating yourself up.
· List out all the key roles in your life (work, school, family, friends, health, finances, spiritual, etc,). List your top three priorities in each.
· Are you energized or overwhelmed by these goals? The truth is that there are only 24 hours in a day which means that choices are probably going to have to be made. Exercising every day will will mean less time to do other things. So, what do you really care about? In 20 years, what will you want to say about 2009? What is most important and what will you value the most in years to come?
· Identify specific, difficult yet attainable goals in each of these areas for the coming year because we all know that people with these kinds of goals regularly outperform people who have easy or “do your best” goals (Locke & Latham, 1990).
· Build your efficacy and resilience. Think about the times that have been tough in your life, but you pushed through. What about you allowed you overcome the obstacles? What can you draw on this year?
· Control your environment. Find ways to remind yourself of your goals. Leave your workout bag by the front door the night before so it’s ready in the morning, make sure that only healthy food is in your refrigerator, post your goals someplace where you will see them.
· Think about the situations in the coming year that will tempt you. Think through in vivid detail what you will do in those situations. Think about the situations that will help you reach your goals. Visualize those situations and your great response in equally vivid detail.
· What price are you willing to pay? Think about what you are willing to give up. What will give you the willpower to push through the difficult times?
Now, take a deep breath, and relax into the coming year, after all, you are at the edge of new horizon, the sun is coming up, and today is a new day!
Koestner, R., Lekes, N., Powers, T. A., & Chicoine, E. (2002). Attaining personal goals: Self-concordance plus implementation intentions equals success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 231-244.
Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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 non-resolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 397-405.
Norcross, J. C., Ratzin, A. C., & Payne, D. (1989). Ringing in the New Year: The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14, 205-212.