December 27, 2016
Every January, 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. But according to U.S. News and World Report, 80% of these resolutions fail. While you may enter into a resolution with the best intentions, the odds for completing it are certainly against you.
Only 8% report success in achieving their resolutions, with the remaining percentage of resolvers achieving a sort of limbo with their goals; neither explicitly failing or succeeding — not exactly something to aspire to.
Here are some reasons why most New Year’s resolutions don’t work:
Making a resolution gives you a feeling of control over your life. It’s good to have goals, but they must be reasonable. Wanting something and working to achieve it are two very different things. False Hope Syndrome describes the cycle of setting unrealistic goals without an actionable plan or support system that begins with your current situation. Failing to meet lofty goals is painful, and a New Year’s resolution can set you up for just that experience, ultimately damaging your self-esteem.
Last year around this time, Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed it “A Year of Running," creating a public Facebook group inviting all to join him in his resolution of running 365 miles in 2016. While 365 miles is over a hundred 5K marathons in a year, Zuckerberg broke it down a different way: 365 is one mile a day, requiring only 10-12 minutes of running. Research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best way to achieve them.
Many psychologists and businesses recommend the S.M.A.R.T. criteria for laying out a strategy, identifying ways to make a goal specific, measurable, achievable/assignable, realistic, and time-bound (has a deadline). Aligning your goals by answering these questions will make progress more realistic.
Advocates for behavioral modification agree that willpower alone doesn’t work. Programs like Weight Watchers and behavioral scientists will tell you that support and encouragement are an important component for success. Having a group or an accountability buddy to encourage you and celebrate progress helps reinforce positive new behavior, and makes it more likely you’ll keep it up.
Two main points are necessary for any plan: it must be broken down into achievable steps, and have some kind of support system. A year later, Zuckerberg’s "Year of Running" Facebook group is still a lively forum, with people sharing their progress, asking and answering questions, and supporting each other’s progress. Willpower just isn’t enough on its own, no matter how good your intentions. It helps to have some kind of personal engagement to make your intentions a real part of your life.
One of his “Thirteen Virtues,” Ben Franklin’s words above weren’t aimed at New Year’s resolutions. His advice was for everyday practice -- words to live by. You’ll find more success by making a realistic plan and taking a day-by-day approach to your goals, rather than waving the banner of an empty seasonal trope.
This year, don’t just make a resolution. Make real change.