New Year’s Resolution: Do they make a difference?

It is time to wish everyone a Happy New Year! As we go through the transition of one year to the next, many people think about New Year’s Resolutions. Do they make a difference? If so, what is the best way to assure a New Year’s Resolution be fruitful?

Approximately 40 – 45% of people establish goals for themselves at the start of the New Year. The most common goals deal with health related issues like healthy eating, physical activity, or limiting unhealthy behaviors like smoking. The next common class of New Year’s resolutions are money related issues … like increasing savings or cutting down on spending or debt. However, a New Year’s Resolution can be on any topic, and there is good reason to believe making resolutions can help a person achieve a goal.

Norcross and others, have studied how people change their behavior, including the role of New Year’s Resolutions. In one study, they spoke with people at the start of the New Year and asked them about changes they hoped to see in the next year. Most people were able to express a personal hope for the following year. However, some of those people actively decided to make a New Year’s Resolution and some did not. After 6 months, the researchers followed up with each group and found that 4% non-resolvers were successfully working towards their desired goal whereas 46% of the resolvers were still actively striving to achieve their stated goal. Thus, making a New Year’s Resolution seems to increase behaviors associated with reaching personal goals.

What besides making a resolution increases goal achievement? Koestner found that self-regulatory strength is associated with goal achievement. Specifically, when a person has a sense that the goal they have established was done so for their own benefit and not as a result of pressure from others, they are more likely to implement a plan to reach that goal.

Now, what does a good implementation plan look like? I return to the tried and true research on expertise by Erikson.

  • Clearly state what we are interesting in achieving.

Remember, this has to be something you want … not something you are doing to appease someone else.

  • Specify a plan of how to achieve it.

You have to have a plan. That plan should include: Who, What, Where, When, and How.

  • Make sure the goal is attainable, yet causes us to stretch.

Select a goal and a plan that will fit with your life the way it really is, not the life you wish you had!

  • Establish a way of assessing our progress toward the goal.

Yes, you have to measure your success, which means you have to have a plan to measure your success. Again, sometimes the best way to do this is to seek out recommendations from experts. Often, though, you will have a clear cut goal that will have a clear cut measure associated with it.

  • Use the information from assessment to making changes to the plan.

Don’t just make measures, if you find the plan isn’t working, make changes based on these measures.

  • Deliberately Practice and revise along the way.

Deliberate practice is very targeted practice designed to help us get better. According to Erikson, deliberate practice individuals focus on developing areas of weakness. When faced with challenges or down right failures, people who have adopted a deliberate practice seem to have a laser focus on the area of weakness, and make targeted effort to bring about improvement. Duckworth and others have termed this behavior, Grit, that is the persistence and passion possessed by an individual directed at reaching a long term goal. Grit enables us to maintain interest and drive despite lack of progress, presence of obstacles and even complete and utter failures.

So, making a New Year’s Resolution can make a difference, but only if your personal goal is one that you want for you. Then, create a plan and be gritty as you deliberately practice toward your goal.

Here is hoping you and your family have a Happy, Healthy, and Grit-filled New Year!

Bonnie

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1997). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Koestner. (2008). Reaching one’s personal goals: A motivational perspective focused autonomy. Canadian Psychology, 49, 60 – 67.

Norcross, Mrykalo, & Blagys (2002). Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and non-resolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 397-405.

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