BACKGROUND & EFFECTIVENESS
Studies and statistics show that nearly half of all American adults make New Year’s resolutions. Very common resolutions are ‘exercise more often’, ‘lose weight’, and ‘stop smoking’. Unfortunately, 54% (more than half!) of resolutions are abandoned after six months, from which 36-42% in the first month of the year.
A 2-year study following 200 individuals who made resolutions found only 19% still stuck to their resolutions at the 2 year mark. 42.4% reports to never succeed and fail on their resolution each year. Only 8-9.2% of individuals who make resolutions reported to feel successful in achieving their resolutions.
PREDICTORS OF SUCCESS
Multiple studies showed that the type of resolution, age, and gender did not predict success. However, successful resolvers reported employing significantly more stimulus control, reinforcement, and willpower than the unsuccessful over the 2 years; social support and interpersonal strategies failed to predict success before 6 months but did so thereafter. Also, the belief that one can effect and maintain change, also predicted resolution success. This is called ‘self-efficacy’, which is a measure of personal belief in one's ability to succeed at something.
In contrary, unsuccessful participants tended to use ‘consciousness-raising strategies’, which basically means a hot picture of Sara Sigmundsdottir on your desk will not empower you enough to exercise more often (sorry lads!). Falling short of willpower and failure of stimulus control were reported as the most hindering in sticking to resolutions. These were preceded by a lack of personal control, excessive stress, and negative emotion. Fortunately, research shows that willpower can be forged and shaped: study participants performed better or worse (in tests) depending on their belief in the durability of willpower. Essentially, one has as much willpower as one thinks he/she has. To a certain extent, this may include that the journey to self-improvement will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
STRATEGIES THAT WORK
Another study from 2002 published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology followed 159 New Year’s resolvers and 123 comparable non-resolvers interested in changing a problem later for a period of 6 months. The researchers found that self-efficacy, skills to change, and readiness to change assessed before January 1st all predicted positive outcome for resolvers. Successful resolvers employed more cognitive-behavioral strategies than non-successful resolvers. Examples of cognitive behavioral strategies or processes are;
- Self-liberation (making a commitment)
- Counterconditioning (use substitutes)
- Helping relationships (getting social support)
- Reinforcement management (using rewards)
- Stimulus control (manage your environment)
BEHAVIOR CHANGE IN SCIENCE
All these findings fit well into the ‘transtheoretical model of behavior change’ (TTM), which is an integrative, biopsychosocial model to conceptualize the process of intentional behavior change. Whereas other models of behavior change focus exclusively on certain dimensions of change (theories focusing mainly on social or biological influences), the TTM seeks to include and integrate key constructs from other theories into a comprehensive theory of change that can be applied to a variety of behaviors, populations, and settings—hence, the name ‘transtheoretical’. This model has been widely adopted in the worlds of psychology, medicine, and research. It conceptualizes behavior change in ‘The Stages of Change model’ (see figure 1) as a process (rather than a single event) and it applies for example to self-initiated behavior change such as New Year’s resolutions. A New Year's resolution should signal the advent of the ‘action’ stage of behavior change, a period of time characterized by observable lifestyle changes. Readiness to change, or how prepared a person is to enter the action stage of behavior change, is found to be the best predictor of New Year’s Resolution success.
Figure 1: ‘The Stages of Change model’
Although resolutions have a relatively low success rate, people who explicitly make resolutions are still 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions.
To finish, I recommend you to be truly committed to specific goals (SMART, not vague!) and have faith in your ability to succeed. Enjoy the support of your team and ask your coaches for help. Most of all: don’t forget to enjoy the journey and conquer your fitness goals!
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- New Year’s resolution statistics (January 1, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/ on January 4, 2018
- Luciani: Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail (December 29, 2015). Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail