Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year's Resolutions: Who Makes Them? Do They Succeed?

How many people make New Year’s resolutions? How many resolvers follow through on their intentions? Do any characteristics of the resolvers or their situations predict “success”?

Surveys from the concluding two decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first suggest that 40 to 50 percent of adults in the United States make New Year’s resolutions. A Marist poll of more than 1,000 adults throughout the United States, this past November, revealed that about 38% thought they would make a resolution for 2012. No differences appeared between men and women in expectations to make a resolution. However, a large age gap did appear: almost 60% of Americans younger than 45 thought they would make a resolution, compared with only 28% of those 45 and older.

Survey data, along with anecdotal evidence, suggest that common resolutions tend to fall in the category of health improvement. They involve losing weight, exercising, eating a better diet, reducing consumption of alcohol or caffeine, and related behaviors. Saving money, getting more education, and “being a better person” also received mention in the recent Marist study.

Norcross and colleagues authored an often-quoted study in 2002 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology regarding the factors which lead to success in carrying out New Year’s resolutions, appearing. They based their findings on data obtained in the mid-1990s, by following people who made resolutions and a comparison group of people who did not make a New Year’s resolution but did set a personal improvement goal. First of all, they discovered that making a resolution does seem to help a person to make a behavior change. The resolvers more often persisted with their intended behavior change than did the nonresolvers. In fact, the percentages of resolvers who continued to implement their behavior change over time were: 71% for a least 1-2 weeks, 64% for at least a month, and 46% for at least 6 months (compared to only 4% of the nonresolvers who continued their behavior change for more than 6 months).

For those in the study who made a resolution and succeeded, what seemed to influence their success?  Psychologists tend to look at this question within the context of self-efficacy (the ability to produce results and influence events that affect one’s life), self control, and self regulation. The Norcross study, and similar studies, confirm what you might expect: New Year’s resolvers who strongly believe that they have the power to control their behavior and who believe that they can succeed in accomplishing their behavior change actually end up succeeding more often than those who without such beliefs about themselves.

So, if you have made a resolution, I hope that you believe strongly that you can accomplish it, that you practice positive thinking (with no self-blame), and that you are ready to change. If so, research suggests that you will succeed!

Happy New Year!

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