So, how’re those New Years Resolutions coming along?
You’re kidding, right?
I survived 10 months of a pandemic that’s taken the lives of 350,000 Americans, spend most waking hours on Zoom, lose track of what day it is, and can’t remember when I showered last. Isn’t that enough?
I get it. We’re living amid epic chaos and uncertainty, and we’re exhausted.
Even so, a resolution or two might just give you a positive boost, so, if you choose to pursue a few, here’s some research that can help you rock them.
The Time is Now
Psychology professor, John Norcross, at the University of Scranton, compared three groups: people who wanted to make a change in the new year, folks who were contemplating change but not necessarily around January first, and people who were all in with resolution-making at the first of the year.
Among the folks who embarked on resolutions at the New Year, 46% were still going strong with their positive change six months later. The other groups? Not so much.
Sure, 46% isn’t the greatest success rate, but it’s greater than zero, so if you’re going to resolve, now’s the best time.
How to Resolve
OK, you’re going to resolve. When and how is the best way to do it?
- make a list of resolutions and just go for it with no outside support
- make a list and also seek a bit of outside support to stay on track, or
- make a super-concrete list of measurable resolutions complete with clear time frames for their accomplishment and enlist long-term, ongoing support.
Don’t stress out too much over choosing the right way: in a year-long study of a thousand resolution-makers, Swedish psychology professor Per Carlbring discovered that, no matter which of the above conditions they chose, participants had a 55% success rate – 10 points higher than in the Scranton study – which, again, is higher than zero.
The most successful: group two, the ones who simply made a list and sought a bit of support.
Why no details or timelines? Carlbring suggests that creating and possibly failing to complete an intermediate step is demotivating enough to make resolvers decide to ditch their resolutions before completing them.
Will-Over-Won’t and Starting-Over-Willing
Participants in Carlbring’s study were more successful when they worded their resolutions with I will rather than I won’t: I will be more proactive and positive in dealing with challenging clients is more effective than I will stop letting really challenging clients wear me down.
Similarly, resolution makers were more successful when they started resolutions with I will start to as in, I will start to walk three times a week rather than I will complete a couch-to-marathon training this year.
Still in the Messy Middle
If you’re still hesitant about doing the resolution thing this year, consider this from Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center, Christine Carter: the challenges of 2020 aren’t over just because we’re writing the date differently.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we collectively freaked out. And then we acted. Food drives, birthday parades, applauding health care workers at 7:00 p.m. Then we got tired. And more tired. To the point that we’re basically exhausted now.
Carter writes, “It’s too early to give up, friends. This messy middle is hard, and the coming year is not likely to be anything close to “normal.” Instead of just waiting—another year, maybe more—for it all to be over, we’ll do better to re-engage with the things that bring us meaning in life.”
So take on a resolution that will bring you meaning, rather than just because it’s what people have always done in January.
Happy resolving. Be well, do good, and seek joy in the ride.
image: dsmacinnes @ unsplash
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