How to make New Year’s Resolutions Rewarding
By MICHELLE WU
As with most New Years, people across the country will resolve to make a positive change in 2009.
In fact, 40% to 45% of adults in the U.S. will make a resolution at the start of the year, according to John C. Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton who has done research on New Year’s resolutions.
The most prevalent type of New Year’s vows are health-related, such as losing weight, exercising more, and quitting smoking, says Mr. Norcross. In three clinical studies he conducted over the past 25 years, Mr. Norcross found that 40% to 46% of those who make resolutions will be successful after six months. Also, New Year’s resolvers are ten times more likely to succeed than individuals who set personal goals that are not tied to the new year.
Mr. Norcross spoke to the Wall Street Journal about how to make reasonable resolutions and stick to them.
The Wall Street Journal: Why do people make New Year’s resolutions in the first place?
John Norcross: There are three big reasons: Tradition, the timeless quest for self improvement, and because it is a socially sanctioned time to do so at New Year’s.
WSJ: How can someone set a reasonable goal?
Mr. Norcross: Make it realistic. Make it attainable. And it should be positively stated. Don’t say, “I’m going to lose 50 pounds” if that is not realistic for you. “I will take off 15 pounds by the end of this year” would be a better statement. Be positive and specific. Vague goals beget vague resolutions.
WSJ: Is there a certain type of resolution that is more successful?
Mr. Norcross: No. There are hardly any differences between the types of resolutions. What makes the difference are the actions that are taken by individuals. People need to be ready to make a change.
WSJ: Is there a certain type of person who is more successful?
Mr. Norcross: There is no certain type of person who keeps or breaks resolutions more often. We haven’t found any prevalence in terms of gender, race or age.
WSJ: What are the best strategies for keeping your New Year’s resolution?
Mr. Norcross: It’s important to make it public — declare your resolution. Public commitments are more successful than private decisions. Use social support; the buddy system works. Create a specific action plan and track your successes. Give yourself rewards.
You can also use counter-conditioning, which means building in healthy behavior that is incompatible with the problem in order to replace the problem behavior. For example, if you resolved to reduce stress, then learn to relax.
Environmental control is important, as well. Your environment has a lot to do with your behaviors. Avoid triggers that might lead to negative behavior. If you are limiting sweets, then stay away from the bakery.
Remain persistent and confident, even if you slip. You should expect occasional slips in your resolutions, and know that it is part of the process. In one study, we found that 71% of successful resolvers said that their first slip actually strengthened their efforts.
WSJ: Do you have advice for someone who makes the same resolution year after year, but never keeps it?
Mr. Norcross: Yes: Stop repeating a negative experience. Reevaluate your goals and actions and develop a different plan. And if necessary, seek outside help — consult a professional or a self-help group.
WSJ: How can a company be successful in completing a resolution?
Mr. Norcross: For companies, it is important to make sure that you have goal consensus at all levels. If the resolution is just something that is handed down from the top, not everyone in the organization will contribute. Make sure everyone can contribute in their own way. Again, the environment is key. You can put up reminders around the workplace. All of the same advice for individuals can also apply to organizations.
WSJ: Do you have a resolution for 2009?
Mr. Norcross: Yes, I’m going to pass on all desserts.