In Praise of New Year’s Resolutions
In recent years, a grim narrative about New Year’s resolutions has gelled: they don’t work. Not only are they doomed to fail, we’re told, but they can actually prove counterproductive, sapping your spirit and deflating your confidence. The takeaway: don’t bother.
Not so fast. There is mounting evidence that “contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolvers do in fact succeed,” writes John Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton who has studied the phenomenon for decades.
New Year’s resolutions are incredibly powerful, provided you approach them with the right mindset and are willing to accept failure, some at least, as part of the bargain. What matters is how you define “success” and, for that matter, “resolution.”
In an oft-cited study, Norcross and colleagues tracked New Year’s resolvers over a two-year period. After one week, most (77 percent) maintained their pledges, but that number dropped to 55 percent after one month, 46 percent after six months, and a paltry 19 percent at the two-year mark. So, resolutions don’t work, right?
If we define “success” as 100-percent compliance forever then, yes, most resolutions fail, but life, of course, doesn’t work that way. No doubt those who stuck to their pledge for “only” six months learned valuable lessons. Maybe they realized they don’t really enjoy running so they scrapped the “run three days a week” pledge and replaced it with cycling or weightlifting or some other exercise routine they’re more likely to stick with. The simple act of resolving to change — sincerely and wholeheartedly — is the first step on the road to achieving that change.
We’ve been thinking about resolutions all wrong. The question “Do New Year’s resolutions work?” is meaningless without a follow-query: “Compared to what?”
Resolutions are a way of laying down markers, declaring to ourselves, and to the world: this matters to me. Will we succeed? Maybe, maybe not. What matters is that we have resolved.
We’ve been thinking about resolutions all wrong. The question “Do New Year’s…