New Year’s Resolutions: Shooting for Success

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On January 1st, 2015, the Earth completed its 365-day elliptic trajectory around the Sun. With the conclusion of the yearly orbital cycle, a new yet familiar cycle emerged that gave many a sense of opportunity for growth and development. As such, at the start of every New Year, a throng of Canadian desires and goals are consolidated in the form of “New Year’s Resolutions” which are often health-related. These resolutions may include, but are not limited to, weight loss, cessation of smoking, increasing levels of exercise, and consumption of healthy food (Thestar.com, 2013). Regardless of the particular health-related objective, adhering to self-made yearly commitments can be challenging; therefore, in addition to goal setting, employing a variety of strategies to address potential difficulties should be implemented to ensure the actualization of our resolutions.

In early December 2014, Canada’s largest market research company, Ipsos Reid (2015), interviewed Canadians about their construction of New Year’s Resolutions relating to health objectives. The demographics of the study population were stratified to reflect the Canadian adult (18+) population distribution. According to the survey findings, 65 percent of the study group had constructed a resolution for the year of 2015, and among this group, 32 percent of New Year’s Resolutions focused on improving health and fitness.

Despite one’s well-intended efforts to create a healthy momentum at the start of a year, maintaining a New Year’s Resolution can be challenging. Seventy nine percent of the study participants found short-term dietary change to be relatively easy compared to long-term adherence. Evaluation of the data identified the following obstacles to weight loss and healthy living in descending order of importance: “Managing cravings or staying on track during special occasions, staying motivated, eating properly and exercising in inclement weather, getting started when it seems overwhelming, getting back on track after derailing, achieving goals on your own, avoiding temptations, finding the time to prepare healthy meals/eat properly or exercise, working around costs of health eating, and finding good recipes/knowing how to cook good meals.” The difficulty in actualizing health-related resolutions has been shown in numerous other studies.

In 2007, Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire, followed 3000 individuals over the course of one entire year to examine adherence to formulated New Year’s Resolutions including weight loss, gym attendance, smoking cessation, and reducing alcohol consumption. By the end of the study, only 12 percent of participants had successfully realized their goal despite the fact that 52 percent had reported confidence of success at the beginning of the experiment. A similar pattern was noted in an older experiment conducted between 1998 and 1999.

From 1998-1999, Norcross & Vangarelli followed 200 New Year’s resolvers over a two-year period to evaluate long-term success and to discover effective coping strategies. The findings of the study indicated that 77 percent of the research participants were capable of maintaining their resolutions for one week; however, only 19 percent were capable of doing so over the span of two years. Despite the evidence suggesting that creating New Year’s Resolutions is a moot endeavour, success in goal attainment is variable per individual and correlated with the utilization of certain strategies.

Maintaining New Year’s Resolutions can be challenging, and although creating resolutions to address health issues is no guarantee of success, goal setting alone may increase the likelihood of creating lasting health-related behaviour change among adults (Shilts, Horowitz, & Townsend, 2004). With regards to strategies that could improve resolution attainment, the study by Norcross & Vangarelli found that long-term adherence to New Year’s Resolutions was strongly linked to using methods related to stimulus control (i.e. reminders for goal adherence), self-liberation (i.e. willpower), and reinforcement management (i.e. a reward system for positive changes). In addition, within the same experiment, social support and interpersonal strategies predicted success with resolutions six months after starting the behaviour change.

The utility of certain strategies may also be gender-specific. Wiseman’s 2007 study indicated that men achieved greater success by creating specific goals and focusing upon rewards, whereas women responded more favorably towards sharing their resolutions with their immediate social network and receiving encouragement. Furthermore, in order to improve adherence to New Year’s Resolutions, Wiseman recommended the following strategies: Not revisiting previously failed resolutions, creating only one resolution to improve focus, and creating resolutions ahead of time through thoughtful reflection.

In summation, carrying out a New Year Resolution may be a formidable task; hence, one should accompany their ambition with a variety of relevant techniques to increase the probability of success. Although failure is a possibility, it is important to note that failures not only allow one to fully appreciate the attainment of a goal once achieved, but also are the character building moments that lead to lasting behaviour change. From this perspective, even failures can be seen as a form of success.

References:

Ipsos Reid. (2015, January 12). One in three (32%) Canadians will have health living New Year’s resolutions for 2015. Retrieved from http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=6725

Norcross, J.C. & Vangarelli, D.J. (1998-1999). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1(2), 127-134.

Shilts, M.K., Horowitz, M., & Townsend, M.S. (2004). Goal setting as a strategy for dietary and physical activity behavior change: A review of the literature. American Journal of Health Promotion, 19(2), 81-93.

Thestar.com. (2013, Jan 1). New Year’s Resolutions by the numbers. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/01/01/new_years_resolutions_by_the_numbers.html

Wiseman, R. (2007). New Year’s Resolutions Experiment. Quirkology.com. Retrieved from http://www.quirkology.com/UK/Experiment_resolution.shtml

 

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