Did you ring in 2018 with a New Year’s resolution? If so, how is it going?
St. Louis, MO (February 6, 2018) - Hopefully, you are sticking to your plans and are on track to meet your goal. If you are like most of us, you have probably already thrown in the towel.
Luckily it’s not too late to pick back up again – we can help.
An estimated 45 percent of Americans (110 million people) make New Year’s resolutions.
Google searches for words like “diet,” “gym” and “resolutions” generally peak around January 1 (exception in July 2016 due to searches for “Pokemon Go Gym”).
On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.”George Orwell
It hasn’t even been two months since our resolutions were made. Some of us may still have remnants of those healthy vegetarian meals we vowed to eat, now mingling in the fridge with pizza boxes and Chinese food delivery; others fight to cling to their resolutions like lifeboats. We had such good intentions, such important goals, such high hopes for the “future us.” We made these resolutions because we wanted to be better and believed (at least for that day) that we could be.
Sadly, most of us can’t stick with our new plans. More than half of resolution-makers (50–80 percent) have abandoned them by now. A longitudinal research study done at the University of Scranton found that after a year, only 8–19 percent of people followed through on their resolutions, and in the UK, researchers found that about half of those who make resolutions report they have never kept a resolution.
So, why did we give up so quickly? Why even make resolutions if they don’t work?
The “Fresh Start Effect” energizes new beginnings.
New Year’s inspires half of all Americans to want to change their behavior and set goals to improve their lives; that is an amazing feat for just one day. For even the most logical among us, the promise of a new year (although really just another day) brings hope of a new beginning, a “fresh start.” For over 4,000 years people have embraced the idea of a day to reflect on past behavior and start anew.
Interestingly, there is truth to this notion. Behavioral researcher Hengchen Dai studies this “fresh start” concept. Following what she refers to as temporal landmarks (days like New Year’s Day, a birthday, or even the first of the month or beginning of the week), we mentally wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. This is why diets always start on Monday and most savings accounts are opened at the beginning of the month. She has found strong evidence that framing a date like New Year’s Day as a “fresh start” makes us feel more motivated.
Temporal landmarks separate us from the flawed past versions of ourselves and allow us to believe that we can be the better future versions of ourselves. Essentially, they give us a new status quo to anchor on. This new hope comes along with increased perseverance, resilience and a willingness to put future consequences in place to safeguard us from failure, all factors that motivate us to set goals for ourselves.
The fresh start also removes us from the familiar cycle of setting goals based on feeling bad about some part of ourselves, failing at those goals, feeling even worse, and so on. Instead, we can put all past transgressions aside and begin as the person that we want to be. Many successful interventions are based on this very idea: that self-compassion is a more effective tool for behavior change than shame and guilt.
The promise of New Year’s is that it gets us started. But it doesn’t keep us going.
We are right to believe in the power of the “fresh start” that New Year’s offers. It gets us out of a rut and improves our sense of self-efficacy. But it doesn’t provide either clear goals or a plan. Without those, we can’t succeed in the long-term; motivation is too variable and fleeting to keep us on track day after day.
In some ways, New Year’s may actually be a very difficult time to set a new goal because we are exhausted already and don’t have the time we need to plan. We make resolutions during the busiest and most stressful time of the year, often basing them on post-holiday guilt without thinking about what we really want. Instead, we take goals that we did not accomplish the entire preceding year; we rename them as resolutions, bet on the magic of the new year, and hope for the best.
Luckily, it’s not too late to try again! Any day can be a “Fresh Start.”
The beauty of a “Fresh Start” is that with proper framing, any day can be THE day.
So, maybe your ideal New Year’s is actually on your birthday, or the first day of Spring (March 20), or even just this Monday. You don’t have to wait a whole year to get back to your resolution; just pick a day to be your own personal New Year’s!
Set yourself up for success.
Make a detailed plan with very specific goals. Instead of saying, “I want to get in shape,” say: “I want to exercise for 30 minutes, four times a week. I’ll go to the YMCA at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.” Think about what might go wrong and also create a backup plan: “If I’m feeling tired, I’ll allow myself to do strength training instead of cardio.”
Set a challenging goal, but give yourself a few mulligans.
Research shows that people tend to do best when their goals are difficult, but they plan for a few “cheat days.”
Find an accountability buddy.
We all do better when others are watching. Tell someone about your goals and give them regular updates. Even better, post updates on social media so that you have even more buddies to encourage you.
Don’t rely on long-term rewards.
We all need positive feedback and fun to keep us going. If you enjoy something, you are far more likely to do it, so add some fun into your goals. Add variability and excitement into your exercise routine or take a class to learn how to cook healthy foods.
Julie M. Miller, PhD –
Julie M. Miller is a senior behavioral researcher at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University. She works with the Envolve Center’s Behavioral Economics team, which incorporates behavioral economics and social science into health-related behavioral modification programs. Julie’s work blends behavioral economics and clinical health psychology to develop interventions that improve adherence to medical recommendations, QOL, provider-patient relationships, medical decision making, and overall health and wellness.
Share this Post