Research Supports the Benefit of New Year’s Resolutions

Chronicle Ad of NorcrossEach year between 40 percent of adults living in the United States make New Year’s resolutions, according to a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive Poll. And the best available research on the topic indicates that between 40 and 46 percent of these “resolvers” are still successful six months into the New Year.

“Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year’s resolvers do in fact succeed, at least in the short run,” said John Norcross, PhD., distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and the author of Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing your Goals and Resolutions (2012, Simon & Schuster). “Making a New Year’ Resolution is a valuable opportunity to increase the quality of life.”

The four main areas for New Year’s resolutions are related to self-improvement or education-related resolutions (47%), weight (38%), money (34%), and relationships (31%), according to the Statistics Brain Research Institute. The Institute gathers the results of hundreds of studies, such as Norcross’ work, and publishes them online.

In one of Norcross’ studies, researchers contacted resolvers every week or two for six months. The success rates were: 71 percent for two weeks; 64 percent for one month; and 46 percent for six months, he said. The comparison group of people that did not actually make a resolution has a 4 percent success rate after six months.

“Scientific research indicates that you are 10 times more likely to change by making a New Year’s resolution compared to non-resolvers with the identical goals and comparable motivation to change,” said Norcross, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit university in Pennsylvania. Norcross has written more than 350 publications, mostly in the areas of psychotherapy, clinical psychology and self-change.

While it is true that most people forget about the statements they make in January about how they want to improve, a large number evidently make the right kinds of resolutions and stick to them.


Attributes of Successful Resolutions

Effective New Year’s resolutions actually begin before January 1, when successful resolvers take the time to “psych and prep,” Norcross said.

“People need to make realistic, attainable goals,” Norcross said. “They need to develop a specific action plan about what they are going to do differently to deal with the habits they want to counter.”

The other aspects of “psych and prep” are to publicly declare your resolution and to believe that you can overcome your challenges, Norcross wrote.

“Establish genuine confidence that you can keep the resolution despite the occasional slip,” Norcross added. “Self-efficacy is potent predictor of who succeeds in the New Year.”

Once the New Year begins, resolvers need to track their progress and cultivate a network of people to support their efforts to change, he added.


Develop a Community of Support

Fortunately, as believers, Christians often have a community of people in the church who can help them stay true to their commitments to themselves, their families and to God, said Lester Wolfe, an elder at the West Broward Church of Christ in Plantation.

“Having a strong faith community is one of the most important things,” Wolfe said. “Even two are better than one,” Wolfe said.

Although just making a resolution doesn’t guarantee success, it is an important first step, said Dr. Isadore Newman, a member of the editorial Board of the Journal of Applied Christian Leadership and a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Akron, in Ohio.

“A resolution makes a person self-aware and provides some direction about the way they want to go,” said Newman. “Unfortunately most people don’t get support to help them and so for them, New Year’s resolutions don’t help. Also, resolutions are meaningless if they are terminated shortly after they are made,” Newman said. “Action is sparked and resolutions achieved if they are repeated two or three times a day and visualized.”


Dr. Steve J. Rios owns Rios Research & Evaluation and co-founded Florida Reach, a state-wide network of education and child welfare professionals that promotes post-secondary success for emerging adults from foster care. He can be reached at [email protected].

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