New Year's resolutions might not be a waste of time after all

Illustration for article titled New Years resolutions might not be a waste of time after all

New Year's resolutions are made to be broken: why even bother making resolutions when you know you're not going to keep them? Although maybe we shouldn't give up on resolutions just yet, as one study suggests they really can work.


A 2002 paper examined just how well people who make New Year's resolutions compare to people who don't bother when it comes to following through with their stated goals. Although less than half of the resolves stuck to their resolution, that was still more than ten times better than their non-resolving counterparts:

"New Year's resolvers (n = 159) and comparable nonresolvers interested in changing a problem later (n = 123) were followed for six months via telephone interviews to determine their self-reported outcomes, predictors of success, and change processes. Resolvers reported higher rates of success than nonresolvers; at six months, 46% of the resolvers were continuously successful compared to 4% of the nonresolvers. "


Alternately, this just means 42% of resolvers weren't willing to admit over the phone that they had given up on their resolutions after a week of half-hearted effort. Still, let's assume the best of our intrepid resolvers. How did they achieve such positive results?

"Self-efficacy, skills to change, and readiness to change assessed before January 1 all predicted positive outcome for resolvers. Once into the new year, successful resolvers employed more cognitive-behavioral processes but fewer awareness-generating and emotion-enhancing processes than nonsuccessful resolvers."

So, if you want to keep a resolution, be sure to be cognitive and behavioral in your approach, but try to avoid being too aware or emotional about it. Seems perfectly obvious now, doesn't it?



Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Dr Emilio Lizardo

You have made a common math error. If 42 of 46 resolvers lied than more than 90% lied.

I see researchers making this mistake all the time when speaking, rarely when writing. For example, if a treatment reduces the risk of death from 40% to 20% then the reduction in risk can either be expressed as a 20 percentage point absolute reduction or a 50% relative reduction. The difference is quite important since a relative risk reduction of 50% can be really impressive or insignificant depending on what number you start with.

Sorry if that seems pedantic. Confusing absolute and relative risk reduction is one of my pet peeves since it often confuses my patients and I have to take time to teach people math.