It happens every January; people make promises they may or may not intend to keep and enroll in gym memberships they often forget about by mid-year.
Even at Cal Poly, where the Recreation Center is always buzzing with movement, fitness class attendance drops between January and June. Gregory Avakian, director of recreational sports for Associated Students, Inc., (ASI) said that the severe decrease in gym attendance rates typically aligns with dead week and finals week in March. However, after a spike in attendance in April, the fitness class attendance declines again.
According to psychology professor Daniel Levi, failed resolutions are often a result of a person’s environment. Since behavior is often affected by a person’s social environment, it is difficult for a person to break a behavior that surrounds them.
“A famous psychologist, Kurt Lewin, said it is easier to change your group of people than it is to change an individual and put them back in the group,” Levi said. “The individual’s behavior will revert back to the group’s behavior, and that’s a problem for New Year’s resolutions.”
That is not to say that in order to have a successful resolution, people must completely abandon their current friends. Instead, Levi said to link a desired habit with another social group. In doing so, the person will choose to surround themselves with people striving toward a similar end goal.
“We tend to think of New Year’s resolutions as acts of willpower, but in many ways, successful ones are acts of social environment,” Levi said.
Accountability also plays a large part in the success of a resolution. President of Central Coast Psychology Association Hannah Roberts said when people keep their goals to themselves, it becomes easy for them to make excuses.
“By telling someone about your goal, and verbalizing it, that is another way to make it stick better,” Cal Poly’s assistant Director for Community Prevention and Intervention Roberts said. “The more ways you commit to that goal and make it real, the more likely you are to follow through.”
However, even if you are held accountable, if your goal is too broad, it is often not achievable. People are less likely to achieve overgeneralized goals, such as losing weight or drinking less. Specific goals, such as working out twice a week or only drinking once a week are easier to reach.
Roberts said the best way to make a habit last is to have what she referred to as SMART goals, or specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-oriented goals. SMART goals create systematic “mini-goals” that are not as ominous as an end goal. These can be used to evaluate your progress.
“Having SMART goals is saying exactly what it is you are going to do, not where you want to end up,” Roberts said. “And if you feel you have picked too big of a goal, I would say re-evaluate the goal and make it smaller and more manageable.”
Whether someone’s resolution is to form a new habit or stop an old one, making small progress before taking a big leap is very important. In order to break a habit, Roberts said, it is easiest to replace it with something healthy. For example, rather than saying “I will not drink tonight,” people who are trying to stop drinking could say “I am going to study tonight.” Applying the mentality associated with a bad habit to a new or healthier habit is an easier way to achieve a goal.
“It is really about creating a new habit to replace the old habit, because if you just avoid it [it] is really easy to go backwards,”
No matter what it is, Roberts says any goal should focus on self improvement or personal intent.
“Spending time reflecting on the previous year and celebrating what went well and thinking about what more you want to bring into the upcoming year are some things that people could do instead of reaching for a set bar every year,” Roberts said.