Social psychology

New study finds two-thirds of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions within a month

new years resolutions - revellers

A new study has found that about two-thirds of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions within a month.

The study also found that most resolutions involve either diet or exercise, and that people tend to make the same resolutions year after year.

The study appeared on March 17 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (impact factor: 2.8).

The participants were about 180 Australian and UK adults who completed an online survey four times over a two-month period. The average age of the participants was 37, and they ranged in age from 18 to 77.

New Year’s resolutions are difficult to keep to

The study found that two-thirds of the participants abandoned their New Year’s resolutions within the first month. Likewise, more than half of the subjects had made the same resolutions, or similar ones, the year before.

More than half of the participants’ resolutions addressed health behaviors, such as diet (29%) and exercise (24%).

The researchers also classified almost two-thirds of the resolutions (64%) as vague, for example “get fit.”

Participants who were more flexible about the actual goals of their resolutions demonstrated considerably higher levels of wellbeing.  Nonetheless, this flexibility did not predict how likely they were to stick to their goals.

The researchers didn’t find any significant differences related to age, gender, or country (i.e. the UK vs. Australia).

Set specific resolutions

So why do so many people give up? Lead author Joanne M. Dickson said an important factor behind sticking to one’s resolutions is their specificity. Vague resolutions such as “get fit” or “exercise regularly” were less likely to be followed than specific resolutions, such as “go on a 45-minute walk around the lake with Jane on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.”

Prior research, she said, “has shown that setting specific goals that include a time, place, and/or people provide the mental cues to assist people to stick to their resolution goals.”

Another factor is that vague resolutions require more mental effort than specific ones, whose details have already been sorted out in advance.

Folk wisdom rings true

“Although setting New Year’s resolutions is a popular activity in many cultures,” the authors write, “our findings are consistent with the folk wisdom that people are not particularly good at sticking to them.”

“This is despite participants initially reporting high importance of, and commitment to, the resolution and the belief that they would stick to their resolution, even in the face of obstacles and difficulties,” they write.

The authors suggest that future research could further investigate the individual characteristics that underpin the ability to stick to one’s resolutions.

Other recent psychology news:

  • What is anthrophobia? A new nationwide survey finds that this “fear of people” has become the most searched-for phobia of 2020.
  • The brains of lonely people differ from the brains of people who aren’t lonely, perhaps due to so much imagined social contact.
  • A new study of cats and dogs living together also finds cats and dogs getting along just fine.
  • A new study of psilocybin for depression shows that magic mushrooms are very effective at treating depression.
  • Recent research on Delaware vanity plates finds that the scarcity of low-numbered plates has turned them into an expensive status symbol.

Study: “Self-regulatory goal motivational processes in sustained New Year resolution pursuit and mental wellbeing”
Authors: Joanne M. Dickson, Nicholas J. Moberly,David Preece, Alyson Dodd, and Christopher D. Huntley
Published in: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Publication date: March 17, 2021
Photo: by Rodnae Productions from Pexels

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