Do New Year’s Resolutions Work?

As the new year approaches, you are probably getting closer to setting some resolutions for 2016. Goals and intentions are often beneficial in helping us improve how we're living and feeling, but does setting resolutions really work?

December 15, 2015
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We’re quickly heading into what many of us consider to be the new year, and resolutions weigh heavily on the mind. Setting resolutions is a tradition–most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere–in which a person commits to beginning an act of self-improvement on New Year’s Day. The concept of setting New Year’s resolutions is very well known, and disappointment about not sticking to those resolutions is equally familiar to many people.

Research has shown that the most common reason for failing to keep New Year’s resolutions is setting unrealistic goals. Other factors uncovered in research include not keeping track of progress and making too many resolutions. Close to half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions (45 percent), and a whopping 8 percent are successful at achieving their resolutions.

The types of resolutions chosen by each person vary but are usually focused on self-improvement. As the year comes to a close a natural process of reflection occurs, along with a drive to resolve what hasn’t been working over the past year. For many people, December is the first time all year that any kind of pondering has taken place.

According to Nielsen the top 10 resolutions for 2015 are as follows:

– Stay fit and healthy (37%)

– Lose weight (32%)

– Enjoy life to the fullest (28%)

– Spend less, save more (25%)

– Spend more time with family and friends (19%)

– Get organized (18%)

– Will not make any resolutions (16%)

– Learn something new/new hobby (14%)

– Travel more (14%)

– Read more (12%)

Pros

It rings true that a new year would be a time for a “new you.” January brings the opportunity for starting fresh, and using this time of year as a kickoff for new behaviors makes sense. The psychology of having a starting point that marks a new beginning suits our human nature and makes us feel focused and committed to our goals. Resolutions also encourage us to reflect on what might not be working. Checking in on what needs a tune-up or which major changes would offer great benefit to well-being can be a wonderful byproduct of setting New Year’s resolutions.

Cons

Clearly these personal commitments are hard to maintain as the year progresses, and we lose sight of what we originally intended to accomplish. New Year’s resolutions can leave you feeling like a failure or disappointed in your efforts. We often have a tendency to over-commit and set unrealistic goals, which can lead to darker feelings of self-hatred or shame around disappointing results. Resolutions can also be misdirected and focused on surface issues, when the real issues run deeper. They can be a “quick fix” method of personal growth, which puts you at risk for not really resolving the deeper struggles that drive what seems maladaptive to the naked eye.

Fit Or Flop

New Year’s resolutions are a flop. Statistics show that only 8 percent of Americans follow through on their commitments in the new year. New Year’s resolutions are particularly problematic because they imply that if the commitments are not made and started by January 1 then the boat has been missed.

The truth is that we can set intentions for improving ourselves and our lives any time of the year. The focus should be on shifting and designing your life for success and on taking a deeper look at what drives your inner thoughts and feelings. Treating symptoms without looking at the underlying causes never truly resolves the problem. New Year’s resolutions, while well intended, are not a great way to make major changes in your life. Just like your physical health, maintaining an ongoing effort to live well and to take care of yourself all year long is a much more productive way to live.

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