On New Year’s resolutions
Soon, the gym parking lot will be packed, weight-loss clinics booked to the maximum, and the voice-mail of holidaying personal trainers will be full (let’s hope).
It is the time to turn over a new leaf, to make the annual New Year’s resolution.
Yes, it’s great that people are preparing to make a change for the better (I hope). Taking time to take care of yourself is unbelievably important and under-appreciated. Yet, how many people stick with such resolutions?
Norcross et al. (2002) attempted to answer just that. They conducted phone interviews with resolvers (n=159) and comparable non-resolvers (those desiring to make a change, but with no resolution in place; n=123) for a period of six months to determine self-reported outcomes, predictors of success, and change processes.
So what did they find? After six months, resolvers significantly reduced cigarette consumption and weight relative to non-resolvers (i.e. 16 vs. 23 cigarettes per week and 160 vs. 167 lbs). They found that 46% of the resolvers self-reported success relative to only 4% of the non-resolvers.
What does this suggest? That making resolutions is important; merely having the desire to make a change as in the non-resolvers is unlikely going to result in the change occurring. Norcross et al. (2002) found that the key to long-term (i.e. six months) resolution success is to employ willpower, reinforcement management (rewarding yourself for changing), and positive thinking.
While this percentage seems promising, we must keep in mind that the data was collected via self-report methods which are always subject to bias. More importantly, you must determine whether you think maintaining a change for six months is synonymous with a long-term change.
I don’t. Making the attempt to change is great. Making and sustaining the change for six months is also great. But if the change is too demanding (e.g. going to the gym 4x per week, preparing to run a marathon, not eating chocolate) it is unlikely that you are going to stick with it past six months to one year.
A long-term change in my mind, means life-long. Thus, the resolution must be realistic and maintainable. Not eating chocolate for the rest of your life is NOT sustainable, nor enjoyable. So merely resolve to reduce your intake, not completely rid yourself of the decadent delight. I would also encourage you to NOT make resolutions for the New Year. Make them for today, tomorrow or January 15th. I have an un-tested theory (perhaps it has been tested) that if you make a New Year’s resolution, you are more likely to give it up. Why? Because nobody else keeps their resolutions, so it’s not a big deal if you don’t either.
So instead of waiting for the New Year, make a resolution today or tomorrow. Ensure that you break your resolution into steps, perhaps reading my post on goal-setting would be helpful. And ensure that your resolution is realistic and maintainable for the rest of your life.
Norcross et al. 2002. Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of the New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. J Clin Psych: 54(4);397-405.