New year, new resolutions. Well, maybe not really new. Ok, they are the same ones from last year. Why reinvent the wheel? Hope springs eternal. Perhaps this year will be different, we assure ourselves, and our resolve will be stronger.
What are they? If you are like most people, they are versions of the same themes. In 2018, according to a YouGov poll, the top New Year resolutions, each garnering 37 percent of the vote, were eating healthier, exercising more, and saving money. In fourth place was improving health care, such as getting more sleep, followed by reading more, and making new friends.
Unfortunately, even modest goals frequently go unattained. Anyone who has ever joined a gym January 1 only to let the membership lapse several months later knows what I mean. We need more than good intentions. So why do we bother?
Some people don't. The YouGov poll found that as many people admitted they chose not to make any new year resolutions as made the top three (37 percent). Why? Could it be that some people have given up on their ability to follow through with their annual January 1 no-salt diet or daily appointment with a personal trainer because those resolutions were too ambitious? Or is any type of change too difficult to attain — even if we don´t go over the top?
For many people, January 1 really does bring resolve that is lacking during the rest of the year. Many people use the New Year as an opportunity to re-examine goals and priorities with newfound passion, motivation, and the best of intentions. Research on what is termed the “fresh start effect” corroborates this phenomenon, demonstrating there really is something different about tying the desire to make a fresh start to a particular time period.
Once New Year resolutions are made, however, how are they kept? Through accountability, and enjoyment.
Public Weigh-Ins and Other Methods of Achieving Goals Through Accountability
Benjamin Harkin et al. in a study entitled “Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment?” (2016) investigated the impact of goal monitoring on goal attainment. They found monitoring goal progress to be an important and effective method of self-regulation, and that “interventions that increase the frequency of progress monitoring are likely to promote behavior change.”
Benjamin Harkin et al. found that progress monitoring had an even larger effect on goal attainment when the outcomes were reported, made public, or recorded physically. This makes sense. Can you imagine going on a diet that included a weekly weigh-in where the results were posted on social media? Maybe with accompanying photos?
Although this might sound horrifying to some people, coworkers and social groups take advantage of the value of public accountability every January, with people volunteering to participate in weight loss and fitness challenges, complete with weekly weigh-ins and walking contests — reporting steps recorded through fit bit results.
Individuals utilize the public accountability strategy as well, bragging on Facebook about finally giving up smoking, embarking upon a low-carb diet, or starting a new exercise routine, in order to garner both support and motivation to make good on their resolutions.
Motivation Through Enjoyment: Long Term Goals With Short Term Gratification
Although most New Year's resolutions are designed to achieve long-term results, research shows they are more likely to be kept if they involve some measure of instant gratification. Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach (2017) studied the association between delayed rewards and immediate rewards on goal pursuit. They found immediate rewards to be a stronger predictor of persistence regarding goal-related activities than delayed rewards.
With respect to New Year´s resolutions, they found that immediate rewards such as enjoyment predicted persistence, where delayed rewards did not. When examining behaviors typically associated with long-term benefits, however Woolley and Fishbach made some interesting observations. They found that immediate rewards predicted persistence in an exercise and study session where delayed rewards did not, even though such activities are geared toward obtaining delayed rewards.
They concluded that although overall, although delayed rewards may drive goal setting and intentions to pursue long-term goals, immediate rewards are more strongly associated with persistence in achieving those long-term goals.
So as you choose your New Year's resolutions, consider selecting goals you are comfortable sharing with others, and that you actually enjoy — even just a little bit.
This post was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 3,00 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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