Are New Year’s Resolutions Effective?

Are New Year’s Resolutions Effective?

At the start of every new year, each of us considers goals that can improve our health and better our lives. Yet, what many of us find is it’s quite difficult to stick true to these changes. In turn, we may question whether or not we can make New Year’s resolutions effective.

Throughout the last few years, some research has come to light concerning the effectiveness of changes in the New Year. Beyond going over these statistics, we’ll also give you some advice on how to stick true to your New Year’s resolution. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

What is a New Year’s Resolution?

A New Year’s resolution is when you promise yourself to do something different in the upcoming year. This usually involves a change you’ve wanted to give yourself, but have put off for some time.

Research shows that different parts of the United States go about their change differently. While almost half are concerned with their health, you’ll find certain regions more concerned with community and improving mental well-being. For example: ¹

  • In the Midwest, people are most concerned about losing weight.
  • On the West Coast, exercising more is most important.
  • In southern states, many believe attempt to drink less alcohol.
  • In the Northeast, people would like to spend more time volunteering for the community.

Each New Year’s resolution is very personalized and, therefore, your’s may differ from someone else’s. If you’re not sure of a New Year’s resolution you’d like to put before yourself, we recommend writing a list of changes you’d like to see in your life.

How Successful are New Year’s Resolutions?

The success of a New Year’s resolution ultimately depends on you and your willingness to go through with a change. Naturally, this isn’t an easy process as change requires a lot of discipline and patience.

In fact, the majority of Americans fail their New Year’s resolutions over the course of a year. As recent statistics have shown:

  • Within the first week of the New Year, 75% remain successful.
  • After two weeks, 71% stick to their resolution.
  • Within 1 month, about 64% continue with their change.
  • After 6 months, only 46% are still successful in their resolution.
  • By the end of the year, between 9% and 12% of people will feel successful in their resolution.

It’s worth noting that people who desire similar goals but don’t make resolutions are usually less successful – with 4% sticking to their aim by the end of 6 months.

Sticking to New Year's resolutions

Are New Year’s Resolutions Effective?

Since New Year’s resolution success rate is quite low, you may think that these goals aren’t effective. However, those who are successful in maintaining their resolution tend to keep these habits for life. ²

The deciding factor in whether or not we have a successful resolution comes down to the brain. According to a 2009 study, it takes the brain between 18 to 254 days to form a new habit. ³

This figure varies for a number of reasons, including:

  • The Habit Itself – Naturally, some habits are more intense than others. For example, the 2009 study found that it was easier for participants to drink a glass of water with breakfast every morning rather than doing 50 situps after a morning cup of coffee.
  • Your Psychology – Your brain is like a machine that prefers to automate common actions. In turn, it creates habits that you often don’t think twice about (such as putting a seatbelt on in a car). When you suddenly want to change a habit, your technically fighting your own psychology. And you’re motivation for this fight plays a major role in your success. ⁴
  • Bad Habits – If you have a habit that you’re trying to break, it’s likely pleasure-based (i.e. alcohol, tobacco, pornography). While you technically enjoy these behaviors, you’re aware they’re damaging you in the long-run. However, in order to break such habits, you must fight against dopamine release which can be extremely difficult. ⁵

In order to follow through with a New Year’s resolution, it’s important to understand habits and the steps you’ll need to take to change them.

Tips for Your Coming New Year’s Resolutions

So, how do you change your habits? Professionals have laid out a number of techniques to answer this, but whether or not they’ll work for you remains in question. Ultimately, you’ll want to try out a few of these habit-changing approaches to see which is the best fit for your needs.

1.) Avoid Places, People, and Situations

Our brain will identify habits with people, places, and situations. For example, if you struggle with a substance abuse disorder, it’s likely there’s a place you go and people you meet to obtain a drug. Furthermore, you may often find yourself in situations where substance use is prevalent (i.e. parties). ⁶

In order to break a bad habit, it’s important to avoid the people, places, and situations associated with that habit. Over time, your brain will adjust to new people, places, and situations which you may be able to use to promote positive habits.

Avoid people, places, and situations to promote good habits

2.) Use Positive Habits to Substitute Negative Habits

We can’t expect our brains to suddenly rewire overnight. If you’ve developed a habit over the course of years, your brain will naturally have urges to continue with it. However, there are ways in which we can replace negative habits with positive ones. ⁷

For example, if you’re a cigarette smoker, you’ll likely find yourself wanting the oral fixation of a cigarette even after nicotine withdrawals. You substitute this fixation with chewing gum or flavored hard candy (i.e. lollipops).

As mentioned, most Americans desire to make healthier changes with their New Year’s resolution. Keeping that in mind, you’ll likely find yourself still wanting to snack out at certain times of the day. If so, you can replace unhealthy snacks (i.e. potato chips) with healthier alternatives (i.e. fruits or vegetables).

3.) Make Sure You’re Getting the Right Amount of Sleep

Sleep and mental health go hand-in-hand. If we aren’t getting the right amount of sleep, our psychological state is likely to suffer. And if so, chances are we’re going to have a difficult time making changes in our lives.

It’s estimated that 10% to 18% of the U.S. population struggles with a chronic sleep problem, such as insomnia. Of the typical psychiatric practice, that number rises to 50% to 80%. ⁸

If you currently struggle with sleep, there are a few ways to overcome this problem:

  • Ensure you’re going to bed and waking up at a reasonable hour. If you find yourself staying up late into the night and waking up later in the day, you may want to work towards rescheduling your sleep.
  • If you have difficulty getting to sleep at night, you may want to incorporate sleep supplements into your diet, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and melatonin.

Regardless of the state of your sleep, remember that healthy sleep for an average adult is between 7 and 8 hours every night.

4.) Be Patient With Yourself

Change isn’t easy and it’s likely you’re going to make a number of mistakes. This is okay! New Year’s resolutions aren’t meant to be overnight successes. They take a lot of time, effort, and patience to overcome.

If you’re having difficulty following through with your New Year’s resolution, it may help to lower expectations. It’s common for us to want the best for our lives, but we can’t always reach our prospects immediately.

It may help to set smaller goals that lead to your bigger goal. For example, if you want to exercise more regularly in the new year, it may help to start small (i.e. push-ups in the morning and evening, running a mile, etc.) before jumping into more intensive workouts.

5.) Enroll in Mental Health Services

If you struggle with a mental health condition and aren’t receiving the proper treatment, this may be the first step you need to take in order to make other changes in your life.

When mental illness isn’t identified by a professional, it has the chance to worsen over time. In fact, some research suggests that lack of access to treatment is the cause of a mental health crisis in America. ⁹

Naturally, a worsened mental state can make it much more difficult to reach your New Year’s resolution. If you’re not sure where to begin, there are a number of resources online designed to help you find the treatment you need.

Using mental health services to reach your New Year's resolution goals

Final Word

So, are New Year’s resolutions effective? They can be depending on our mindset and expectations for ourselves. Of course, New Year’s resolutions aren’t easy and we may find ourselves discouraged when going about such a change.

However, with the help of habit-changing techniques, it is possible to overcome bad habits and replace them with good ones.

Your Questions

Still have questions about whether or not New Year’s resolutions are effective?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further advice to offer – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ DiVA: New Year’s resolutions: A large scale randomized controlled trial

² Journal of Clinical Psychology: Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers

³ European Journal of Social Psychology: How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

⁴ British Journal of General Practice: Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice

⁵ National Institute of Health (NIH): Breaking Bad Habits: Why It’s So Hard to Change

⁶ Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (YJBM): Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery

⁷ Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School): Trade bad habits for good ones

⁸ Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School): Sleep and mental health

⁹ National Council for Mental Wellbeing: New Study Reveals Lack of Access as Root Cause for Mental Health Crisis in America

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