Own Your Actions to Keep New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Day is really nothing more than an arbitrary day on the calendar, but it does allow people a chance to reflect on their life and their accomplishments. Many people, in turn, promise to change behaviors or circumstances they don’t like in the year ahead. While a lot of resolutions are aimed at living healthier and improved well-being, most, sadly, fail within the first few weeks (or days) of a new year. What can make this year’s resolutions different? Make the right resolutions and success will follow.

Intentions and desires are the root of most resolutions: stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, save money. But, actions do not always follow accordingly. Many factors influence intentions and actions, including the ability to meet basic needs and family obligations, the tendency to procrastinate, the ability to plan, and the skill set necessary to bring about change. People also differ in their perception of the costs and benefits of making any change, so an action that is good for one, may not be good for another.

That is exactly the premise of research examining goal attainment, particularly of New Year’s resolutions: pursuing the right goal for oneself predicts success. The principle of self-concordance, in which people pursue goals because they intrinsically fit with their interests and values, rather than pursuing goals because other people say they should, is significantly associated with positive goal progress.

Interestingly, most self-concordant people also report better subjective well-being than those who do not follow principles of self-concordance. Further, following a self-concordant model of goal setting and progress facilitates more goal attainment in the future. Success begets success, and each goal can be bigger and better than the last.

Another factor that influences goal attainment is implementation intentions, the plan people create for reaching goals. Implementation intentions help people initiate progress, and the effect is usually larger for goals that are harder to achieve. One study reported that self-concordance works synergistically with implementation intentions to help people achieve goals. That is, the sum of the two features is greater than either attribute alone. (However, implementation intentions were found to be counter-productive for people who are perfectionists.  Such planning actually decreases goal attainment in people with the most self-critical tendencies.)

Other qualities that predict resolution success are self-efficacy (a person’s belief about what they can actually achieve), having the necessary skills to change, and being ready for change. All three predicted positive goal progress among New Year’s Resolution makers.  Overall, in one study, 46% of resolutions were continuously successful at 6 months. In another study, 19% of resolutions were successful after 2 years. In the latter study, success was related to strategies such as stimulus control, reinforcement techniques, and willpower. In two studies, social support also predicted success, but not within the first 6 months after making a resolution.

Successful self-change is also predicted by self-control, decreased stress, fewer negative emotions, less self-blame, and less wishful thinking. Self-initiated change seems to be the key to meeting goals. Making a change before one is ready or setting a goal because someone else suggests it will almost surely lead to another failed resolution. This year, resolve to own your actions. Choose goals that are consistent with who you are, not who others say you should be, and you will find happiness and success through the year.


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Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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