A new year, a new you. Many of us start the year with the best intentions of beginning new habits, but maintaining major lifestyle changes can be difficult. We’ve asked experts to weigh in on the best ways to keep New Year’s resolutions.
Why make a resolution?
John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and author of Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing your Goals and Resolutions, says about 40 percent of U.S. adults make New Year’s resolutions—a tradition that dates back to the ancient Romans. The majority, however, refrain from resolving change at the new year, with about a third claiming irrelevance of the tradition, and another third citing a lack of effectiveness or willpower when it comes to keeping up with their promises to themselves.
For those who do make resolutions, Norcross cites a number of polls, which show that the majority of Americans want to make improvements to their health—including weight loss, exercise, or quitting smoking—followed by resolutions involving their financial state or improving relationships.
“Making a New Year’s resolution is a valuable opportunity for annual reflection and life enhancement,” Norcross says. “Like Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and the season of Lent, these moments remind us to recommit to one’s best self and reflect on a better future.”
Are resolutions worth it?
While many scoff at the idea of a New Year’s resolution, Norcross says they are actually pretty successful. A quarter of individuals polled say getting started is the most difficulty part, while 28 percent say it’s harder to not slip back into old habits over time. Still, Norcross says studies by he and other colleagues on self-change reveal that 40 to 44 percent of New Year’s resolutions were maintained well into the new year
“In one of our studies, we contacted resolvers every week or two for six months. The success rates were 71 percent for two weeks; 64 percent for one month; and 46 percent for six months,” Norcross says. “These rates are probably higher than the actual success as our repeated contacts served to enhance behavior change.”
Is there a recipe for success?
“Old science told us to stick to a single resolution, as we have only so much time and effort. But new science tells us that two resolutions are likely to prove as equally successful when they are closely related, such as eating and exercise, smoking and stress management, relationships and communication,” Norcross says. “Two can be a charm in co-action.”
He adds that research indicates that an individual is 10 times more likely to make a change through a New Year’s resolution compared to those who don’t despite having identical goals and motivation to change.