New year, same me: Most people give up on New Year’s resolutions within a month

JOONDALUP, Australia — If you gave up on your New Year’s resolution weeks ago, don’t beat yourself up about it. According to a recent study, you’re not alone in abandoning your goal for 2021. Researchers from Edith Cowan University say two in three people give up on their resolutions by January 31st.

Notably, intentions have little to do with it. Even if someone wants to make a life change for the noblest of reasons, study authors find they’re still overwhelmingly likely to drop it within a month.

About half of the survey participants had the same, or very similar, resolutions for 2021 as they did entering 2020. That result in particular isn’t all that surprising, considering how many people never achieve their resolutions. Over half of the resolutions described to researchers revolved around either diet (29%) or exercise (24%).

Most people make their resolutions too vague to succeed

Around 180 Australian and U.K. citizens took part in this study via an ongoing online survey lasting two months. The group had an average age of 37, but participants varied from 18 years-old to as old as 77.

Notably, the study finds giving oneself more flexibility in terms of achieving a resolution leads to greater well-being over time. Meanwhile, greater tenacity or persistence toward achieving a goal did not result in improved well-being. These participants also did not display any more commitment to important resolutions than others. Interestingly, study authors say they didn’t see any major differences in keeping resolutions between genders, ages, or nationalities.

At the start of the year, most survey-takers told researchers they were fully committed to their resolutions and believed they would succeed. For what it’s worth, the team hypothesizes that a decent number of resolutions fail because they aren’t specific enough.

Study authors listed 64 percent of the group’s resolutions as being too “general” in nature. An example of a “general resolution” would be to “get fit this year” without going into any further specifics.

“An example of a specific resolution might be–to go for a 40-minute walk around the lake with my friend Sam on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings,” research leader Professor Joanne Dickson says in a university release. “Previous research has shown that setting specific goals that include a time, place and/or people provide the mental cues to assist people to stick to their resolution goals. General goals or resolutions also require more thinking time, making them harder to stick to than goal resolutions that have a plan.”

Taking New Year’s resolutions to heart

Prof. Dickson believes resolutions may be easier to accomplish if a person links them to their life goals and values. In other words, don’t just set a goal just to do something, actually believe in what you’re doing.

“The resolution to lose five kilos will more likely endure in the face of obstacles, difficulties or other competing resolutions if it’s linked to higher personal values, such as beliefs about one’s health or appearance,” Dickson adds.

“Our study also found that the ability to flexibly adapt one’s resolutions in response to changing situations or obstacles was positively associated with increased mental wellbeing. Whereas the ability to stick to a goal did not increase mental wellbeing or sustained resolution pursuit.”

The study appears in the journal Environmental Research and Public Health.