As 2017 comes to a close and 2018 rolls around, many Americans begin the year with a set of New Year’s resolutions in hopes of bettering themselves. But these goals do not always last long. According to a report by U.S. News, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February.
As discouraging as this may seem, in a study by University of Scranton, psychology professor John Norcross recorded that 77 percent of resolutions are successful in the first week and 44 percent of resolutions are successful in the first year. Although there is a decrease in the success rates over time, it is clear that it is possible to accomplish one’s new year goals.
So, what is the best way to ensure one stays committed to their New Year’s resolution?
Accoring to a report by Harvard Medical School, the key to successful behavior change is a positive motivation.
“One potential roadblock: too often we’re motivated by negatives such as guilt, fear, or regret. Experts agree that long-lasting change is most likely when it’s self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking,” researchers said. By selecting a resolution that is motivated by positive emotions and intentions, one can feel more encouraged and as a result, have more potential for success.
Often times, being encouraged by a goal comes down to what we choose as the goal and how we voice our goal. Choosing a specific goal can help to focus progress on one thing. If a goal is too broad, one might have difficulty choosing where to begin.
Additionally, the way a resolution is worded can affect the outcome. In the European Journal of Social Psychology, Phillippa Lally concludes that success in habit forming relies on replacing old habits for new ones. If a goal is cutting out a bad habit, instead of beginning with “don’t,” “never,” or “stop,” try replacing that habit with a healthy one. The focus of that resolution is no longer on the bad habit, but instead on a new, healthy habit.
Another common pitfall for goal-setters is the lack of immediate progress. Sometimes the idea of a clean slate for the new year can be intimidating and when someone fails a resolution early, they may give up on it all together.
In these cases, it can be helpful to set one large goal, and then work toward it with a set of smaller goals. When training for a marathon for the first time, an athlete usually builds up the distance of their runs until they can complete the full 26.2 miles. Similarly, many big changes towards a resolution start with a series of small goals achieved gradually.
A lack of success or just a lack a perceivable or measurable success can lead to a sense of disappointment. But according to most psychologists, good habits take 3 weeks to form. In his book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits,” psychologist Jeremy Dean said there can be some variance to this idea.
“What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit”, says Dean.
If this research tells Americans anything, it’s that New Year’s resolutions are not doomed and that one cannot expect instant results for a goal that is meant to be carried out over an entire year.
There are so many ways a person can start improving their lives and the lives of others. Whether it is a small personal goal or a big resolution, setting a positive, measurable goal and being patient can lead to amazing successes. And if you haven’t chosen a New Year’s resolution yet, it’s never too late to start; you have all of 2018 to achieve it.