A study from the UK has found that about two-thirds of people abandon their New Years resolutions within a month.
The study also found that most resolutions involve either diet or exercise, and that people tend to make the same resolutions year after year.
The participants included about 180 Australian and UK adults who completed an online survey four times over a two-month period.
They ranged in age from 18 to 77, with an average age of 37.
New Years resolutions are difficult to adhere to
The study found that almost two-thirds of the participants abandoned their New Years resolutions within the first month.
Likewise, more than half of the subjects had made the same resolutions, or similar ones, the year before.
More than half of the participants’ resolutions addressed health behaviors, such as diet (29%) and exercise (24%).
The researchers also classified almost two-thirds of the resolutions (64%) as too vague to be useful, for example the popular resolution to “get fit.”
Participants who were more flexible about the actual goals of their resolutions demonstrated considerably higher levels of well-being.
Nonetheless, this flexibility did not predict how likely they were to stick to their goals.
The researchers didn’t find any significant differences related to age, gender, or country (i.e. the UK vs.
Set specific resolutions
So why do so many people give up? The study’s lead author Joanne M. Dickson, a psychology professor at Australia’s Edith Cowan University, said an important factor behind sticking to one’s resolutions is their specificity.
Vague resolutions such as “get fit” or “exercise regularly” were less likely to be followed than specific resolutions, such as “go on a 45-minute walk around the lake with Jane on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.”
Prior research, Dickson said, “has shown that setting specific goals that include a time, place, and/or people provide the mental cues to assist people to stick to their resolution goals.”
Another factor is that vague resolutions require more mental effort than specific ones, whose details have already been sorted out in advance.
Folk wisdom rings true
“Although setting New Years resolutions is a popular activity in many cultures,” the authors write, “our findings are consistent with the folk wisdom that people are not particularly good at sticking to them.”
“This is despite participants initially reporting high importance of, and commitment to, the resolution and the belief that they would stick to their resolution, even in the face of obstacles and difficulties,” they write.
The authors suggest that future research could further investigate the individual characteristics that underpin the ability to stick to one’s resolutions.
Study: “Self-regulatory goal motivational processes in sustained New Year resolution pursuit and mental wellbeing”
Authors: Joanne M. Dickson, Nicholas J. Moberly, David Preece, Alyson Dodd, and Christopher D. Huntley
Published in: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Publication date: March 17, 2021