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THE SCIENCE OF PERSUASION.

Why We Make and Break New Year's Resolutions

January 9, 2019

 

New Year’s Resolutions are no modern phenomenon, they are approximately 4000 years old - with the ancient Babylonians to have been amongst the first to make these resolutions. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honour of the New Year. Almost every culture today celebrates the New Year, even though the date of that celebration differs (depending on the cultures calendar). However, New Year’s Resolutions appear to be seriously entrenched in the spirit of the West.

 

According to Miller and Marlatt (1998), popular New Year’s Resolutions include starting an exercise regime (37% of respondents), eating better (13%), and reducing the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and/or other drugs (7%). 67% of respondents stated that they made at least three resolutions, yet only about  25% succeeded at their first attempts to reach these goals. As New Year’s day comes closer we promise to ourselves renewed change, often aimed at improving our lives in some way. However, it is also widely held that most don’t stick to their New Year’s Resolutions. There may be a number of reasons for this:

 

  • Individuals who hold negative beliefs about their self-control are less likely to follow through on New Year’s Resolutions. These beliefs concern both an individual’s beliefs about their locus of control (sense of one’s own capacity to affect the outcome of a situation) and belief in the likelihood of attaining their goals. 

 

  • The nature of planning in achieving ones goal is also instrumental in whether the resolution comes to fruition or not. Poor planning or complete lack of planning is probably one of the main reasons New Year’s Resolutions are not met.

 

  • Having the ‘wrong emotional’ motivation behind your New Year’s Resolution. Behavioural Scientists and Psychologists know that setting goals which are predicated on guilt are much more likely to fail than setting goals which are motivated or produce positive emotional states such as pride or enjoyment. Most New Year’s Resolutions are based on personal disapprovals and therefore more likely to be based on feelings of guilt.

 

  • We often make a shopping list of vague resolutions (quit smoking, quit drinking, read more books, lose weight, meet new people, learn to play an instrument…) that are unrealistic and unachievable at best.

 

These three commonly held suggestions can help to improve commitment to New Year’s Resolutions:

 

  • The goals should be specific. A New Year’s Resolution is bound to fail if the goal is too broad.

 

  • It needs to be realistic. If the goal is too lofty or too challenging it is unlikely to be initiated or the individual is likely to give up easily, before its achievement.

 

  • The New Year’s Resolution needs to be clearly defined in terms of timing, for example when it will be done and/or when it will be attained. New Year’s Resolution’s often don’t have timings outlined. They remain things to be done, rather than set out with specific time frames for their achievement.

 

  • Sometimes it’s easiest to try change one habit that will bring about the most change in your life. Change takes time, effort and unrelenting patience. According to the University College of London, it takes 66 days to completely break an old habit, and much longer to master something new. So start small, making one tiny change in your day-to-day routine can be a crucial step to alleviating any resistance to change – and remember to celebrate the small victories.

 

With all this in mind, we hope you start out your 2019 with some deliberately thought-out and achievable goals that may actually be fulfilled, and if not, well a diet doesn’t have to start on Monday – there’s no time like the present.

 

 

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