As January 1 begins to loom on the horizon, I always find myself amazed and confused about the rampant resolution-ing that goes on at this time of year. Okay, so I’ve made some resolutions myself—many years ago—but it only took me a few January rebound weight-gains and February head-hanging moments to realize:
New Year’s Resolutions don’t work!
Luckily for me, I’m no longer just that Scroogey guy at the New Year’s Eve party rolling his eyes at your fun, because I am now backed up by SCIENCE. (Yes, I am now that Scroogey guy self-importantly rolling his eyes at your fun because I was right.)
Here are the science-backed reasons why you are going to be exactly the same person on January 1st that you were on December 31st (and that’s no bad thing).
The number one New Year’s Resolution: “Lose weight.” This was true in 2015 and has probably been true for the last twenty years at least. This is also the thing we’re least likely to be able to achieve based on a quick promise to ourselves, because it’s a hugely psychological thing. It requires lifestyle changes—not promises.
There’s nobody to enforce it. In ancient Babylon, people made New Year’s resolutions with the understanding that the gods would punish them if they didn’t keep their end of the deal. Nowadays, we just go “Eh, well, I’ll just have this one slice of pie” and nobody smites us at all. Problem.
Only 8% of people are successful in keeping their resolutions. Okay, so SOME people do keep their resolutions, but your chances of keeping it are pretty low … so why make one at all? Right???
75% of New Year’s Resolutions are kept for the first week or less. That’s right—there’s a 75% chance you won’t even make it to Week 2.
Of people who achieve their resolution, only 14% of those are over 50. So if you’re over 50, you have an overall 1.12% chance of success. People over 50, DO NOT MAKE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS. You’re just giving yourself a reason to berate yourself, instead of enjoying some more delicious pie.
You’re being unrealistic. Another reason people fail, according to Dr. Avya Sharma, is that people set unrealistic goals. Instead of setting boring, concrete goals like “return that bike I borrowed” or “buy some dish soap,” people ask their future selves for things they can’t possibly deliver based on the person they actually are at this point in time.
24% of people fail … every. Single. Year. And they just keep making resolutions, apparently. This cannot be good for the soul.
It’s a substitute for actual change. Timothy Pychl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, says that resolutions are a way for our whole culture to procrastinate en masse. It’s a sort of Let’s Pretend to Improve Ourselves game: everybody knows everyone else is going to fail, yet we congratulate each other for making a resolution, feel like we’re doing something good, and then and help each other brush it off afterwards, to make sure we all know it’s okay we didn’t actually do it. In other words, New Year’s Resolutions aren’t really resolutions at all.
One day isn’t enough time or reason to change. One thing research has shown repeatedly is that by trying to get yourself not to do something, you automatically place it centrally in your mind, increasing your chances of wanting to do it. Making big changes requires that you literally create new neural pathways that allow you to make different decisions. And unfortunately you can’t just snap your fingers and create new neural pathways: again, it takes time. It requires literally thinking differently—over and over and over again—until that becomes the new normal. (And it’s probably not easily done with a New Year’s hangover, either.)
Resolutions can actually KEEP you from doing something good for yourself. Because the act of making a resolution sort of halfway seems like you’re doing something, depending on how long you last, it can make you feel temporarily better. That keeps your guilt at bay, which keeps you from addressing the bigger issues that you will have to face if you want to make any lasting changes.
Much like “Puppies aren’t just for Christmas,” resolutions aren’t just for New Year’s. In fact, why not just enjoy New Year for all the lovely revelry it entails, let the peer pressure to make a resolution pass … and then once everyone else is falling off their resolution wagon mid-January, think through what’s important to you, and set some small, concrete, realistic steps for reaching your goals in life. It doesn’t have to happen all in one leap.
And be glad: the year will change, but you will be the same fabulous person you are now, come midnight on January 1st, 2016.
Happy New Year, everyone!!
James J. Sexton