If you are like me, every New Year you make a list of resolutions, a list of behaviors, attitudes and other changes you would like to see in your life, and each year you fail to keep any of them.
I don’t even remember what my New Year’s resolutions were last year, but the top three New Years resolutions are:
- starting to exercise
- eating better
- reducing the use of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc.
I’m pretty sure part of my New Years resolution last year included all of those three things including the reduction of caffeine/diet sodas and I can tell you I didn’t succeed in any of them.
Most people who make New Years resolutions, 75% fail on their first attempt to make changes and most people make more than one goal.
Why do people make New Years resolutions and how successful are they likely to be?
Researchers Mukhopadhyay and Johar (2005) did some research on the psychology of resolutions.
They found that people who believe that self-control is dynamic, unlimited and changing, are more likely to set more than one resolution (i.e., “I can lose weight, stop drinking and go back to school, it just takes willpower.”).
They found out that people who believe that we all have a limited amount of self-control that can’t be changed (i.e., “I’m fat because my mother was fat, I can’t change that” or “I smoke because my father smoked, it’s in our blood”) and those who have little confidence in their ability to carry out their goals (low self-efficacy) do a lot worse on achieving their resolutions.
High self-efficacy correlated to a higher likely hood of a person achieving their New Years resolutions and goals in general.
People with high self-efficacy tend to attribute their failure to achieve something as a lack of effort on their part, while people with low self-efficacy tend to attribute failure to lack of ability.
People who are made to believe that self-control is a fixed or limited resource that they can’t change, made fewer resolutions and gave up on them faster, regardless of their level of self-efficacy.
What does this mean? That if you believe that self-control is an unlimited resource that we all have access to and it can help you with your goals/resolutions, you will do better at achieving them. The more you believe in your own abilities (self-efficacy), the better you will do also.
Setting MORE goals/resolutions also seems to help because you will be more likely to succeed at them, while people who set a small number of goals usually go into it expecting to fail either consciously or unconsciously, and thus create a self-fulfilling prophesy to fail.
Researchers also say having the actual skills to make the changes you want to see in your life is helpful.
If you want to lose weight, do you actually know how? Have you done the research? If you want to save money for example, do the research ahead of time, it will make it easier for you to actually achieve that goal.
Being ready to change also helps of course.
Some people say that they are ready to change, when they really aren’t and then are surprised when they fail at making the change they said they wanted to make.
There’s a whole psychology orientation called Motivational Interviewing that is about preparing people to make changes in their life.
Miller and Marlatt (1998) also suggest to:
- Have a strong initial commitment to make a change.
- Have coping strategies to deal with problems that will come up.
- Keep track of your progress. The more monitoring you do and feedback you get, the better you will do.
Ingredients for setting yourself up for failure:
- Not thinking about making resolutions until the last minute.
- Reacting on New Year’s Eve and making your resolutions based on what’s bothering you or is on your mind at the time.
- Framing your resolutions in absolutes (i.e., “I will never do ‘x’ or ‘y’ again.”).
Good luck with all your New Year’s resolutions. Mine include exercising more, eating better and losing weight. How original, I know, but I am going to use everything I talked about in this post to help me achieve those goals and hopefully you will too.