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New Year’s resolutions: easily made, but hardly kept

If you’ve already launched an effort to make some changes in your life in 2018, you’re definitely not alone. A survey conducted in December by online polling firm YouGov found that more than 60 percent of Americans have at least one personal goal they plan to strive for in the coming year. Eating more healthfully and exercising more led the list of 2018 New Year’s resolutions among those surveyed, with goals for better self-care [such as getting more sleep] and saving more money also ranking near the top of the list.

But while many people start off the new year with the best of intentions, few actually succeed at keeping their resolutions over the long term, ongoing research at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania has found. A series of studies, following 200 people who had made New Year’s resolutions over a two-year period, showed how adherence to those resolutions trails off over time.

The research showed that while 77 percent of participants were able to keep their resolutions for one week, that number fell to 64 percent after one month, 50 percent after three months and 46 percent after six months. At the two-year mark, only 19 percent considered themselves successful at reaching their resolution goals. Major factors including age, gender and the type of change desired were not shown to have a bearing on whether an individual could stick with his or her resolutions.

However, the studies found that people who made resolutions were 10 times more likely to maintain a positive change after six months compared to those who did not, providing evidence that making resolutions is worthwhile despite the steep dropoff in adherence to them as the year progresses. Beyond tracking success rates, the studies also provided some information about why certain people are more successful than others at keeping resolutions. Those who stuck to their resolutions were more likely to use proven behavior change strategies such as setting realistic initial goals rather than enormous ones; avoiding tempting situations that could derail their efforts; and treating themselves to rewards for reaching milestones on the way to their goals.

The most important factor in predicting success was self-efficacy – the confidence in one’s ability to accomplish a task despite obstacles. Like those who gave up on their resolutions, most of those who were successful also slipped up occasionally, but were able to put those temporary failures behind them and, in many cases, increase their efforts toward reaching their goals.

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