In this article, we focus on people’s attitudes regarding New Year’s resolutions. The topic was approached through an online survey conducted on the questia.ro platform. The research study was active between November 20th and November 22nd, 2018 and covered 1000 respondents, with a +/- 3% margin of error when reported to the Romanian online population.

New Year, New Me?

On New Year’s Eve we are overwhelmed by nostalgia and melancholy about the year that has just almost passed. Research shows that nostalgia has very beneficial effects on our daily lives, such as counteracting anxiety, boredom and loneliness and making people feel warmer and more generous. In fact, this bittersweet emotion can lead people to feel more optimistic about the future. And what we do then? Resolutions, of course.

We set up countless goals and hope we’ll become the best versions of ourselves in the next year to come. We hope that our lives will turn out exactly how we’ve always wanted and we become excited, full of energy, thinking about all the wonderful things we are going to accomplish starting January 1st. There is always a „tomorrow I’ll do it”, isn’t it?

Most of us are overly motivated on New Year’s Eve. And because of that, we are impacted by the “fresh-start effect” and thus, we make resolutions. Special occasions such as the New Year can influence our aspirational behavior and make us reflect on our lives in a big-picture way, which inspires us to set goals for better behavior and outcome. The fresh-start effect can be triggered on the start of a new week (“I’ll do it on Monday”), month, year, school semester, birthday, holidays, or even by job changes, moving to another city or country, starting a relationship etc.

In the spirit of setting achievable goals, several therapists have analyzed five of the most common New Year's resolutions: losing weight, getting organized, traveling more, spending more time with family and friends and learning a new thing or developing a new hobby.

According to YouGov’s 2018 New Year poll, the most common goals for 2018 in the United States were eating healthier (37%), exercising more (37%) and saving more money (37%). However, almost one third of respondents, perhaps the realistic ones, said that they wouldn't bother setting any resolutions for the coming year.

Moreover, when considering Statista’s data, based on a study conducted in 2017 in the U.S., Americans’ aspirations for 2018 were somewhat different than the previous mentioned study, as 53% said their goal for 2018 is saving money, 45% losing weight or getting in shape, 24% travelling more, 23% reading more books, 22% learning a new skill or hobby, 21% buying a house and 16% quitting smoking.

However, New Year’s resolutions seem not to outlast the hangover. University of Scranton’s research reports that only 8 percent of Americans achieve their New Year’s goals, from which by the way, losing weight was the number one aspiration. Moreover, U.S. News reports that approximatively 80% of resolutions fail by February, followed by the remorse of disappointment.

Why do we fail at achieving our goals? Are we setting them too high? Are we just too lazy to work towards obtaining them? Are we losing the enthusiasm and maybe we don’t crave them as much? According to NY Times, many of these resolutions fail because they are not the right ones in the first place. A resolution may be wrong when:

  • it is created based on what someone else (or society) is telling you to change
  • it is too vague
  • you don’t have a realistic plan for achieving it

Since 1981, it was discovered  that goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. However, having SMART objectives is not enough. According to Forbes, in order to stay motivated and achieve your goals you can practice the following tricks:

  • create an environment where you're surrounded by motivational quotes and pictures
  • take "before" and "after" pictures
  • use post-it notes and place them on different places of your housing to constantly remind yourself of your mission
  • make a list with three new qualities, traits or behaviors you like about yourself every day (everything you write must be new)
  • make a list with people, places and emotions you experienced that day
  • have a mentor/ coach to guide you - we usually tend to please others more than we please ourselves ("How many promises have you made and then broken to yourself versus those you’ve made with other people?")

Let’s now dive into our research and find out whether respondents have any resolutions for the coming year, what they might be and how they plan to achieve them.

Findings

According to our study, almost half of the respondents (49.5%) made a resolution for 2018 on New Year’s Eve. The top 5 most popular goals for 2018 were enjoying life more (58.6%), followed by reducing the stress (51.9%), spending more time with family and friends (47.9%), taking better care of themselves (47.7%) and travelling more (36.6%).

Whether they achieved their goals or not, most of the respondents (88.5%) said they did, with 55.8% saying they achieved some of their goals, while over one-quarter (32.7%) saying they achieved all their aspirations. However, the answers for this question might also be influenced by the “social desirability bias”, the tendency of some respondents to project a favorable image about themselves and to avoid receiving negative evaluations.

The ratio seems to be maintaining when we asked respondents if they plan to make a New Year’s resolution for 2019, as almost half of users (49.5%) said they will do so. However, 10.2% of them reported they will definitely not set a goal for the year that is to come.

Next, we wanted to find out how respondents usually set their objectives. Are they specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and trackable? As it appears, a little over half of the respondents (59.2%) usually set long-term objectives. However, even if the aspirations are projected over a lasting period, respondents report to segment their goal into small, achievable objectives (63%).  

As it appears, over one-quarter (27%) of respondents reported their 2019 New Year’s resolution will be to enjoy life more which might be correlated with reducing stress from their lives. Right next on the list are increasing family time (9.9%) and taking better care of themselves (9.8%), followed by a career change (9.0%).

Considering that most of personal objectives from New Year’s remain unaccomplished, almost 70% of respondents are sure they will achieve their desired resolutions.

As for the “measurable” attribute from the SMART objectives, we wanted to check how the respondents plan to achieve their goals. As reported, the most common actions they perform to accomplish their objectives are to take it step by step - #nopressure - (47.7%), make an action plan with goal-oriented tasks (30%) and complete at least one of the tasks per week (12.9%).  

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