Do New Year’s Resolutions Work?

Did you keep last year’s New Year’s resolution? Chances are you don’t remember what it was (in fact, you don’t even recall if you pledged one — 40 percent of people skip them altogether). If you did satisfy the resolution — you lost that weight or meditated a few days a week across the year — you are in the minority. According to a Journal of Clinical Psychology study, just 39 percent of 20-somethings reach their resolution goals, and the percentage dwindles with age. By the time people reach their 50s, that number falls to 14 percent.

But the whole resolution exercise, from planning to follow-through, can be helpful, according to psychologists and researchers. It forces you to consider habits you would like to cut out. It compels you to think about fresh things you would like to invite into the clean slate of the New Year. And, if pursued with commitment, it can improve your life from myriad standpoints: career, health, relationships, adventure, and more.

Tips for Keeping Your Resolve

Enjoyment Matters

A 2016 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin study concluded that more than half of New Year’s resolutions revolved around health. Another 20 percent hinged on getting out of debt. For those who succeeded in keeping their resolutions, the most important factor was enjoyment. If the resolution introduced immediate rewards along the way, the people in the study were more likely to achieve their goals.

Keep It Simple

Resolutions aren’t about overhauling your life from end to end. If you are overweight, unhappy at work, looking for your next big crush, interested in learning how to become a stand-up comic, and ready to dive into skiing for the first time, January 1 is not a day to begin working towards triumph on all fronts. Instead, pick one. If you fulfill the first one during the year, then consider adding another from the list. Since we already know that rewards matter, think about which resolutions might deliver the most rewards. Pro tip: It’s probably not stand-up.

“Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on January 1, can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” psychologist Lynn Burka told the American Psychological Association. “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”

Choose a Resolution that Truly Resonates

Too many resolutions are the result of outside pressures — what you think your partner wants for you. Your boss. Your circle of friends. If the resolution doesn’t spring from your heart, it’s likely to fail. Think deeply about what truly matters to you before setting goals.

Dr. Michael Bennet, a psychologist and author, told The New York Times that it’s important to “build up a process where you are thinking harder about what’s good for you, you’re changing the structure of your life, you’re bringing people into your life who will reinforce that resolution.” Pursuing a resolution out of anger? Forget about it.

The moral? Save your rage for the punching bag at that gym you just signed up for.