The psychology of resolutions

The psychology of resolutions

According to an article published in The Journal of Clinical Psychology, almost half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Of those, however, only 8% are likely to succeed. Among all the various resolutions, the most common one is losing weight.  Some might ask if it’s worth it to make a New Year’s resolution if the  

success rate is so low. According to University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Maurice Schweitzer, resolutions do have some value. “The new year provides a salient reference point for  setting a goal — How much did I weigh at the beginning of the year? — and forming resolutions helps us identify  important issues. If we spend time, reflect and work to identify a key issue, this itself can be very helpful.” 

Dr. Katherine Milkman, also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, states “I would argue that setting goals — regardless of whether your motivation is the passage of a new year — is worthwhile. Considerable past research  shows that goal setting can be a useful and valuable tool, [leading] us to clearly specify and achieve our objectives at  a higher rate. My [interpretation of the statistics in the Journal of Clinical Psychology report] is that at least some  New Year’s resolutions are achieved, which means some benefits are being realized — albeit not every single desired  benefit — and this is consistent with research showing that goal setting adds value.” 

But does ultimate success depend on the types of resolution that is made? Dr. Milkman states that “the most  valuable goals are those that challenge us but are not so difficult as to be entirely out-of-reach. Further, more  specific goals such as ‘I plan to take steps to become a better public speaker’ are much more valuable than vague  goals like ‘I plan to improve my job performance.’ Finally, resolutions or goals that are accompanied by a specific  plan of action are the most likely to be achieved. For instance, someone who hopes to become a better public  speaker would be well-served by enumerating steps that could lead to the achievement of that objective, [such as]  signing up for a public speaking workshop or giving practice talks once a week.” Perhaps the hardest part may be finding ways to stick to those goals once they are created.

Schweitzer suggests that  people who write their resolutions down, post them where they will see them every day (“mirror, fridge, car or  computer screen”) and work with others to achieve them — perhaps partnering with someone to achieve the same  goal. The Journal of Clinical Psychology report notes that people who make explicit New Year’s resolutions are 10  times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. For that reason, both Schweitzer and Milkman say that  individuals should be sure to tell others what their resolutions are. “One thing we know is that people are more likely  to stick to public commitments,” Milkman says. “If you tell others your goals, you will have friends/family/colleagues  to answer to if you fail to achieve those goals, and you will also have a cheering squad to help you on your way.”

By: Charles J. Biebel, Ph.D.

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