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Do New Year Resolutions Really Work?


by Audra B.

Here we are, approximately one full month into the year 2021. How are those New Year Resolutions going? That good, huh? 😂 

Every year I consider my new goals very carefully and ponder exactly what I want life to look like in the next 365 days. And nearly every year, those lofty goals seem to go by the wayside sometime between January and February. 

For me, this has prompted the question, “Do New Years resolutions ACTUALLY work?”

According to an article published in Forbes, 64 percent of New Year’s resolutions are totally discarded within the first month. An article from Huff Post claims a slightly higher number, saying that about 80 percent of resolutions are down the drain by February. Either way, the odds aren’t looking good. Yay! At least we failed together 🙌🏻😬 

I also found a study published in peer-reviewed journal, PLOS One, that stated of 1066 surveyed members of the general public, only 55 percent felt that they had been successful in accomplishing their new year’s goals at the end of one year. The overall findings of the study were that those setting “approach-oriented goals” were more likely to be successful than those setting “avoidance-oriented goals.” 

What does that mean? Basically, an approach-oriented goal is one that you relate to positively and you are motivated to accomplish because you receive positive feedback from other people upon seeing the results. On the other hand, an avoidance-oriented goal has a negative connotation and is one that you are motivated to accomplish merely to avoid undesirable outcomes such as looking bad or failing. 

For example, an approach-oriented goal might say, “I want to learn to eat well and move my body regularly so that I can not only look good, but also feel healthy and be a more active person.” On the other hand, an avoidance-oriented goal might say, “I want to lose weight because I think I look bad and I’m not as good-looking as I should be and I’m not as attractive as others.” 

The success is in the approach and in the attitude you have toward the goals you set for yourself. 

So, if new year’s resolutions seem to have at least a significant rate of failure, how do we avoid becoming part of that statistic? How can we set goals and actually accomplish them?

First, we have to be realistic. Nothing will make a person fail faster than expecting the impossible. You wouldn’t tell five year old Sally that if she doesn’t make it to the moon by the time she’s 6 she’ll be a complete and utter failure for the rest of her life, so why would you do something similar to yourself? It would be counterproductive. 

If the ultimate, life-long goal is to make it to outer space or simply shed that dreaded COVID Nineteen (ya know, like the Freshman Fifteen but this time you’re older and it’s more fluff and you haven’t left your couch in six months), it’s not going to happen overnight. New habits take a while to set in, and it can take years of discipline to make some big things happen. 

For Sally, it means surviving puberty, taking some science and math classes, probably getting into a really good college, and a whole lot of working her way up from the bottom. For some of us, it might mean taking a trip from the couch to the end of the driveway, breaking out the old jeans and pretending to still be human for five minutes, or finally writing the outline of that book you’ve always talked about. 

In order to accomplish big goals, you have to achieve a bunch of little goals. 

In the aforementioned Forbes article, Dawn Graham writes, “You can’t set realistic goals without values” (Graham 2019). She later writes that “shoulds” are not values, but merely societal pressures and not suitable for successful goal-setting (Graham 2019). 

This is an important note to make. If the reason behind the resolution is to live up to some societal ideal, it’s not going to work. Setting a goal based on this type of principle will wind up with you feeling like a failure in a very short period of time. Why? Because it’s an impossible task and your heart is probably not really in it. 

We shouldn’t be doing anything to try to fit the mold or accomplish something simply because that’s what we are “supposed” to do. We especially shouldn’t be planning our whole year around ideas like that. 

Something else that is important to keep in mind when setting yearly (or even daily) goals is that your attitude has everything to do with the accomplishment of that task. If it’s a hard thing to accomplish and you go into it with the attitude that it’s going to be too much for you, you’ve already decided your failure. 

Make a goal, look at it positively, visualize the success, and work to make it happen. When you catch yourself sliding into an I-can’t-do-it attitude, it’s on you to shut that crap down and keep going. 

What are some of the goals you have set for this year? Let’s chat in the comments!

Forbes Article by Dawn Graham

Huff Post Article by Catherine Pearson

PLOS One Research by Oscarsson, Carlbring, Andersson, and Rozental

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