Suggested Citation: Garko, M. G. (2015, January). How to be a resolution-keeper and not a resolution-breaker. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com
How To Be A Resolution-Keeper and Not A Resolution-Breaker
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Syndicated Host & Producer of Let’s Talk Nutrition
New Year’s resolutions are perplexing and paradoxical. Perhaps, the most obvious paradox is that they are easily made but devilishly hard to keep. Each year approximately anywhere from a third to 45% of Americans and tens of millions of others around the world make New Year’s resolutions (Miller & Marlatt, 1998; Mukhopadhyay & Johar, 2005; Norcross et al., 2002), ranging from weight-loss to world-travel, happiness to health, money to marriage, fitness to finances, sex to stress, among other potential areas for self-improvement (e.g., see Allianz Life, 2015;finder.com.au, 2015; Marist Poll, 2015). According to Norcross et al., (2002), while 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, 17% infrequently make them and 38% absolutely never make New Year’s resolutions.
Nevertheless, over time most resolution-makers become resolution-breakers (see, finder.com.au, 2015; Franklin Covey Organizational Products 2014 Survey, 2014; Miller & Marlatt, 1998; Norcross et al., 2002; Norcross et al., 1989). A “longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts,” found that 77% of resolution-makers kept their pledges for one week but only 19% for keeping their resolutions for two years (see Norcross & Vangarelli, (1988).
In a later study, Norcross et al. (1989) reported a 77% success after two weeks/23% failure rate, 66% success after two weeks/34% failure rate, 60% success after three weeks/40% failure rate, 55% success after four weeks/45% failure rate, 43% success after three months/57% failure rate and 40% success after six months/60% failure rate. Norcross et al., (2002) in a more recent study reported similar findings with 75% success after the first week/25% failure rate, 71% success after two weeks/29% failure rate, 64% after one month/36% failure rate and 46% success after six months/54% failure rate.
Thus, it seems that motivation gives way to procrastination when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. A recent Gallup Health and Healthcare Survey (GHHS) (Brown, 2014) focusing on weight loss provide support for this assertion. The GHHS (Brown, 2014) found that 51% of the adult respondents reported wanting to lose weight but only 25% indicated they were seriously making the necessary effort to accomplish their goal. Hence, there appears to be a real discrepancy between desire and doing relative to weight loss. Such might be the case when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. That is, there may be lots of desire (motivation) but little doing (procrastination) in achieving New Year’s resolutions. What accounts for this motivation-procrastination paradox perplexes more than a few experts.
Given the challenge of keeping New Year’s resolutions, January 2015, edition of Health and Wellness Monthly focuses on ways resolution-makers can improve their chances of keeping their New Year’s goals or otherwise have more success in moderating or changing their behaviors so as to improve their lives. Attention will be given to principles that when put into practice can help resolution-makers become resolution-keepers.
Principles To Follow In Keeping New Year’s Resolutions
Practically speaking, New Year’s resolutions are goals representing what well-intended people would like to change about their lives and would like to achieve. Health-related New Year’s resolutions typically involve making actual changes in behavior. The changes in behavior, which are either implied or directly stated in health-related New Year’s resolutions, are either intended to improve overall health and well-being or help improve a particular health issue (e.g., high cholesterol, being overweight or obese or leading a sedentary lifestyle).
Make A Commitment
It is well established in the literature that commitment to making a behavior change is essential in achieving success in New Year’s resolutions, generally, and bringing about behavior change, specifically (see Miller & Marlatt, 1998; Prochaska, Redding & DiClemente, 1994). Being committed to making a behavior change means more than just talking or thinking about making a change. Rather, it means taking personal responsibility and being steadfast in accomplishing the change, while devoting the necessary time, thought, effort, resources, and follow-through to create the change and then to maintain it. Commitment also means assessing upfront what it will actually take to initiate, achieve and maintain the behavior change reflected in the New Year’s resolution. Finally, commitment means being persistent or otherwise sticking with the New Year’s resolution no matter what setbacks or how many follow-through failures occur.
Researchers (in particular Albert Bandura) have learned that self-efficacy has a large impact on how people approach their goals, objectives, responsibilities and challenges and whether they will have the staying power to overcome obstacles and succeed in achieving what they would like to change about their lives (see Bandura, 1977, 1992, 1994 & 1995). Consequently, self-efficacy gains particular relevance in how people set about making health-related New Year resolutions and whether they will accomplish them.
According to Bandura (1994), self-efficacy beliefs are “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives” (p. 71), such as the ones reflected in individual’s New Year resolutions. In other words, self-efficacy is the level of confidence a person has in his/her ability to do something, achieve a goal or objective, meet a responsibility or in this case carry-out and achieve a New Year’s resolution. Specifically, within the context of New Year’s resolutions and behavior change, self-efficacy is the confidence in overcoming barriers to achieving the resolution (e.g., time constraints on being more physically active). In short, self-efficacy/confidence is a necessary condition for people to accomplish their New Year’s resolutions, generally, and those pertaining to their health, specifically.
Bandura (1994) contends that individuals’ self-efficacy beliefs determine how they feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. More specifically, people with an optimistic view about their capabilities to accomplish their goals or New Year’s resolutions (i.e., possessing high self-efficacy) are able to exercise influence over situations and events affecting their lives such that they (1) approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than threats to be avoided, (2) possess a deep intrinsic interest in their activities, (3) have a strong commitment to their goals, (4) maintain their efforts in the face of failure, (4) recover their confidence quickly after failures and setbacks and (5) approach threats to their goals with the belief they can exercise control over them (see Bandura, 1994).
In contrast individuals with high self-efficacy, people with low self-efficacy or confidence tend to (1) avoid challenging tasks which they perceive as personal threats, (2) have low aspirations and weak commitment to their goals, (3) focus on their inabilities and obstacles when confronted with challenging situations or tasks, (4) give up quickly when faced with obstacles, (5) are slow to rebound from setbacks and (6) lose faith quickly in their abilities because they view their insufficient performance to be caused by their inadequate aptitude (see Bandura, 1994).
Thus, self-efficacy/confidence is among the most important factors in making, following-through on and accomplishing health-related New Year’s resolutions.
Properly Frame Resolutions
In order to make them useful and effective and to increase the likelihood of achieving them, there are well-established guidelines to follow in framing New Year’s resolutions (or other goals for that matter). There is a greater likelihood of achieving them, if New Year’s resolutions are stated in terms that make them sensible (i.e., practical), understandable (i.e., specific), conceivable (i.e., possible), achievable (i.e., realistic/viable) and measurable (i.e., quantifiable).
Too frequently people frame their New Year’s resolutions in somewhat vague and overbroad terms. For example, a person interested in losing weight might state his/her resolution as, “To lose weight this year.” Stated this way, there is no specificity as to how much weight the person wants to lose, at what rate and in what amount of time. “To lose 24 pounds this year” is a bit better but still too vague. “To lose a total of 24 pounds in six months at a rate of one pound per week” is practical, specific, possible, realistic and it can be measured.
Reinforce Resolutions With Objectives
Even when they are framed as sensible, understandable, conceivable, achievable and measurable goals, New Year’s resolutions also require objectives to indicate how they will be accomplished. For example, the resolution of “To lose a total of 24 pounds in six months at a rate of one pound per week” does not specify in operational terms how the resolution will be achieved.
Objectives should be created to so as to meet the same framing criteria which are applied to goals. That is they should be sensible (i.e., practical), understandable (i.e., specific), conceivable (i.e., possible), achievable (i.e., realistic/viable) and measurable (i.e., quantifiable). The following are possible objectives to help accomplish and maintain the New Year’s resolution of losing 24 pounds in six months at a rate of one pound per week:
- To practice portion control by limiting the amount of food consumed at each meal by at least 10% to start and working up to 20%-25%
- To decrease daily total caloric intake by 500 calories working up to at 700 calories a day
- To increase fiber intake to at least 35 grams a day
- To drink at least two liters of water a day
- To limit daily intake of refined, processed carbohydrates by at least 10% to start and working up to 25% by following the principles of the Glycemic Index
- To limit daily intake of saturated and trans fats by at least 15% a day
- To limit daily intake of sodium by at least 25%
- To engage in regular physical activity/exercise for at least 30 minutes a day to start and working up to at least 60 minutes a day
- To decrease intake of alcohol by at least 25% a week
In sum, supplement New Year’s resolutions (i.e., goals) with objectives which are practical, specific, possible, realistic and measurable will go a long way in resolution-makers becoming resolution-keepers.
Keep A Record/Practice Self-Monitoring
Maintain a record of the progress as well as the setbacks in the process of achieving and maintaining your New Year’s resolutions. Keeping a record is a form of self-monitoring. Self-monitoring helps to keep track of what works and what does not work, facilitate course corrections, prevent minor or major setbacks and increase motivation (see IDEA Health & Fitness Inc.’s (2005). Self-monitoring in conjunction with commitment, self-efficacy, goal-setting and social support contributes to achieving New Year’s resolutions.
Rewarding successes along the way in achieving and maintaining your New Year’s resolutions will reinforce those strategies and tactics which work and serve to increase the necessary motivation to continue to follow-through on your New Year’s resolutions. Self-administered rewards should be desirable, timely and contingent on accomplishing specific objectives to carry out your New Year’s resolutions and ultimately achieving your resolutions.
Following through on New Year’s resolutions is challenging. For many, it is something that is not often accomplished. Most people seem to understand the challenge of keeping New Year’s resolutions but they may not understand fully why they fail more often than not in following through on their annual resolutions to do better, particularly with those resolutions pertaining to their health.
New Year’s resolutions, especially health-related ones, can be more than broken annual promises. By following certain principles derived from the scientific literature on behavior change, resolution-makers can increase the likelihood of being resolution-keepers. Those principles are (1) making a commitment, (2) being confident, (3) framing resolutions properly so that they are practical, specific, possible, realistic and measurable, (4) reinforcing resolutions with practical, specific, possible, realistic and measurable objectives, (5) practicing self-monitoring and (6) rewarding success. Taken together these principles give well-intended resolution-makers a better chance of accomplishing their New Year’s resolutions and improving their lives and health.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Bandura, A. (1992). Exercise of personal agency through the self-efficacy mechanism. In R. Schwarzer (Ed.). Self-efficacy: Thought control of action. Washington, DC. Hemisphere.
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V.S. Ramacahaudran (Ed.). Encyclopedia of human behavior 4. New York: Academic Press, pp. 71-81.
Bandura, A. (1995). Self-efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge University Press.
Brown, A. (2014). American’s desire to shed pounds outweighs the effort. Retrieved November 29, 2013 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/166082/americans-desire-shed-pounds-outweighs-effort.aspx.
Franklin Covey Organizational Products 2014 Survey (2014). Retrieved, December 28, 2013, from http://www.slideshare.net/FCOPslideshare/2014-new-years-resolutions-survey-results-4.
IDEA Health & Fitness Inc.’s (2005). The science of self-monitoring. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/science-self-monitoring-0
Miller, A. & Marlatt, E. (1998). How to keep up with those New Year’s resolutions: Researchers find commitment is the secret of success. Retrieved December, 1997, from http://www.washington.edu/newsroom/news/1997archive/12-97archive/k122397html
Mukhopadhyay, A., Johar, G. (2005). Where there is a will, is there a way? Effects of lay
theories of self Control on setting and keeping resolutions,” Journal of Consumer Research, 31
Norcross, John C., Mrykalo, Marci S., & Blagys, Matthew D. (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(4), 397-405.
Norcross, John C., Ratzin, Albert C., & Payne, Dorothy. (1989). Ringing in the new year: The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14(2), 205-212.
Prochaska, J.O., Norcross, J.C. & DiClemente, C.C., (1994). Changing for good: A revolutionary six-stage program for overcoming bad habits and moving your life positively forward. New York: Avon Books.
Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2015, January). How to be a resolution-keeper and not a resolution-breaker. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.
 This article is an updated and revised version of an earlier article I wrote and published in Healthful Hints in 2010.
 According to Brown (2013), this discrepancy between desire and action has existed for a number of years. The graph below depicts the desire vs. doing discrepancy from 2003 to 2013 While the graph shows that the 26% point discrepancy between those who desire to lose weight and those who are taking the requisite action is more narrow than the disparity reported in most of the years since 2002, the percentage of people wanting to lose weight has declined by eight points since 2011 (Brown, 2014). According to Gallup, the desire to lose weight has not increased with the self-reported increase in weight over the past 23 years and that Americans weigh on average 15 pounds more now than they did in 1990, with the percentage of people wanting to lose weight being the same as it was back then (Brown, 2014).
Source: Brown (2014).
 It is important to note that in terms of the theory and practice of behavior change, the discussion of these principles is not purported to be in-depth but rather only as a pragmatic starting point for those interested in making the health-related behavior changes reflected in their New Year’s resolutions.
 In large measure, the recommendations presented on ways to help keep New Year’s resolutions are behavioral principles derived from the literature on the theory and practice of behavior change.
While they are aimed frequently at changing behavior, New Year’s resolutions can implicate cognitive change (i.e., changes in thoughts and feelings). For example, attempting to introduce particular foods (e.g., cruciferous vegetables) into one’s diet, which were once disliked and avoided, may lead to developing more favorable attitudes and beliefs about those foods. Furthermore, New Year’s resolutions can also focus exclusively on changing health-related thoughts and feelings. For example, they can address changing a person’s thoughts and feelings about the importance of regular physical exercise.
 In contrast to individuals with high self-efficacy, people with low self-efficacy or confidence tend to (1) avoid challenging tasks which they perceive as personal threats, (2) have low aspirations and weak commitment to their goals, (3) focus on their inabilities and obstacles when confronted with challenging situations or tasks, (4) give up quickly when faced with obstacles, (5) are slow to rebound from setbacks and (6) lose faith quickly in their abilities because they view their insufficient performance to be caused by their inadequate aptitude (see Bandura, 1994).
 It is recommended that readers visit IDEA Health & Fitness Inc.’s (2005) website to learn more about the Science of Self-Monitoring.