According to a YouGov poll, about two thirds of Americans made resolutions for 2018, with eating healthier, getting more exercise, and saving money the top three.
But how many of us actually achieve our goals? How can we ensure we stay the course? And is there actually any point to making them in the first place?
Do New Year resolutions actually work?
For those of us who have made resolutions in the past that went nowhere, it may be tempting to scoff at the idea.
But clinical psychologist and author of a longitudinal study that followed 200 from the US John Norcross told NPR says “the success rate of resolutions is 10 times higher than the success rate of adults desiring to change behavior but not making a resolution to do it.”
However, while our intentions may be good, it’s estimated 80% of New Year resolutions are abandoned by February.
Why is this?
Why resolutions fail
Clinical psychologist Joseph J. Luciani says the main reason we fail is because we haven’t properly trained our brains prior to taking on the challenge.
“It's important to recognise that outside-in solutions such as dieting, joining gyms and so on are doomed to fail if, other than your well-intentioned resolve to change, you've done nothing to enhance your capacity to either sustain motivation or handle the inevitable stress and discomfort involved in change.
“Saying this differently: Unless you first change your mind, don't expect your health goals to materialise.
“The unfortunate truth is that change, all change, entails some degree of emotional friction, which in turn generates a ‘heated state’ we call stress. Whether you're feeling anxious, depressed, frustrated, fatigued, weak and out of control, or simply bored, emotional friction (stress) becomes the high-octane fuel of failure.”
So how do you make them succeed?
Make goals realistic and specific
“Grandiose goals beget resignation and early failure,” says Norcross.
“We say if you can't measure it, it's not a very good resolution because vague goals beget vague resolutions.
If you can make realistic, attainable goals, he continues, “From there, one needs to establish genuine confidence that one can keep the resolution, despite the occasional slips.”
Similarly, social psychologist Roy Baumeister told the Atlantic, “a resolution to lose some weight is not that easy to follow. It is much easier to follow a plan that says no potato chips, fries, or ice cream for six weeks.”
So rather than resolving to “exercise more”, maybe change it to “run a half-marathon”. Rather than “spend less”, say “save $50 a week”.
Once you have your resolution set in stone, don’t jump right in the deep end.
The American Psychological Association says that, “If, for example, your aim is to exercise more frequently, schedule three or four days a week at the gym instead of seven.
“If you would like to eat healthier, try replacing dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt, instead of seeing your diet as a form of punishment.
“Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. Thus, replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time.
“Don’t get overwhelmed and think that you have to reassess everything in your life. Instead, work toward changing one thing at a time.”
Include friends and family
The American Psychology Association also encourage bringing peers along for the ride, saying, “Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating.”
Norcross agress. “The buddy system works. And the buddies can be co-workers, family members, friends, fellow resolvers. They don't even have to share the same resolution.”
Stay the course
Finally, remember that a year is a long time. So if you fall off the wagon or just get swamped down in the busyness of life, it’s ok to pause the goal, adjust things a bit, and then when you’re ready pick it back up again.
Some outside the box resolution ideas
Learn something new
Whether it’s coding, a language, or breakdancing, there are plenty of offline and online courses that can help you expand your skill set.
Benefit: Good for your brain
More quiet time
Something as simple as putting away the phone and spending some alone each day time can be difficult to do. Scheduling this into your schedule could have impressive results.
Go outside more
The outdoors have a lot to offer. Hiking, kayaking, picnicking to name just a few. Spend less time indoors and more time exploring our wonderful natural environments.
Get a new hobby
Volunteering, social sports, painting. The list of hobbies available today is endless. Find one that appeals to you and set aside time each week to it.
Benefit: Relieve stress, improve career
Read more books
There are so many good books out there that it can be daunting. But the great thing about libraries is that if you don’t like the book, you can simply go and swap it for another one.
But probably don’t start with Finnegan’s Wake.
Benefit: Reduces stress, improves memory