Are New Year's Resolutions Worth Making?

bellicon USA 05.01.2015

(Spoiler Alert: They Are!)

Every year, just as the holiday frenzy has died down enough for us to relax and begin the long, arduous post-holiday digestion process, we are hit by the next wave of seasonal responsibility: New Year’s resolutions! Everywhere you turn, the media, bereft of holiday programming, gushes an endless supply of advice about choosing and keeping our resolutions. We, in turn, begin hoping that we’ll find a way to finally make those overdue changes...and that our list of resolutions won’t keep looking like a photocopy of our previous year’s.

One thing, however, that all of the advice peddlers rarely, if ever, do is to examine whether or not New Year’s resolutions themselves have any value. Is it really worth the effort of searching our souls (as well as searching for a working pen and a clean sheet of paper) and doing an inventory of our hopes, flaws and bad habits when we could instead be contentedly reheating holiday leftovers?

As silly as this annual tradition may seem to many people, it turns out that if (instead of watching “The Grinch” for the third time this season) we instead create a list of New Year’s resolutions, our chances of achieving those goals during the year significantly improves.

How do we know these annual lists really work? Because of the work of John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton and the acknowledged guru of New Year’s resolution research. His work on the subject, which has spanned three decades, provides remarkable insight about the way we plan and achieve our personal goals.

One of his most dramatic findings is how effective New Year’s resolutions can be in helping people to maintain lifestyle changes over the course of time. In fact, according to his research, when July rolls around, people who have made New Year’s resolutions are ten times more likely to still be on track with their goals for the year than people who didn’t.

Norcross’s research also shows that when establishing a new set of behaviors, the most critical period is the first three months, when the new patterns are being established. People who can stick to their goals past this crucial three-month mark are more than 90% likely to stay on course for the rest of the year.

So, this New Year’s Eve, before you take that sip of champagne, jot down your resolutions for  the upcoming year...and please do it on something other than your cocktail napkin. Once you’ve finished listing your goals, pat yourself on the back: you’ve just taken the first big step toward achieving them.

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