Achieving New Year's Resolutions ... Together

Creating New Year's Resolutions with your team and family — and communicating well about them — seems to make you more likely to succeed at your goals.

Not a lot actually changes between Thu Dec 31, 2020 and Fri Jan 1, 2021. And yet, with the pandemic-forest-fires-murder-hornets-sink-holes kind of 2020 most of us had, we are all really ready to start fresh today. Happy New Year!

And our lives revolve around calendars to such a great extent that it really does feel like we restart a little when we change one or two year digits. So much is cyclical in our calendars: school years, fiscal calendars, budget cycles.

Whatever you feel about Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, chances are high that you believe there is some magic inherent to the start of a new year.

Why do I think that? Because, according to an interesting recent survey, about 75% of Americans make at least one New Year’s resolution. The younger you are, the more likely you are to make one. Something like 92% of Gen Z and 89% of Millennials are doing it.

Yet New Year’s Resolutions get a bad rap. If age causes you not to make one, it might be because you’ve failed so many times previously that you’ve given up on the idea. Or maybe because you’ve read so much criticism about New Year’s resolutions.

Numbers vary widely, but according to some, only 8% of resolvers complete their resolutions. Surely you’ve heard reports that gyms report being full in the first week of January (pre-Covid) and near empty just six weeks later in mid-February.

Why? Respondents share:

  • Lack of willpower (Gen Z, 62%),

  • Laziness (Millennial, 20%),

  • Forgetting (Gen X, 12%),

  • Covid (Gen X, 10% — What a bunch of excuse makers we are!), and

  • Other (Silent Gen, 40%) — I don’t know what Other is. Maybe you do.

What if we could increase our chances of success?

One small study I really like (which says that 40-50% of adults make resolutions) shows that people with resolutions are more likely to succeed (like, ten times more likely) than non-resolvers to achieve the same goals.

They engaged about 400 people with many similarities: similar goals, similar likelihood of success, and so on. Most wanted to lose weight, exercise, and smoking cessation. (Their data were collected in 1995.)

Through a series of phone interviews over six months, the researchers determined that

“Successful resolvers used more self-liberation, stimulus control, reinforcement management, positive thinking, and avoidance strategies to keep their resolution. Nonsuccessful resolvers used more self-reevaluation, wishful thinking, self-blame, and minimized threat than the successful contingent.”

In total, 46% of resolvers achieved their goals compared with 4% of non-resolvers using these techniques.

People who did these things were more successful:

  • Self-liberation: Will power

  • Stimulus control: Changing your environment to make it easier

  • Reinforcement management: Rewarding the resolver

  • Positive thinking: Practicing delibate positive thinking

  • Avoidance: Avoiding situations associated with the problem

People who did the following were less successful:

  • Self-reevaluation: Ruminating over the problem that hurts you

  • Wishful thinking: Wishing the problem would just go away

  • Self-blame: Criticizing, lecturing, or blaming the resolver

  • Minimizing threat: Making light of the problem and not taking it too seriously.

Because I am interested in how communication can improve close relationships and increase our likelihood of success, I read the article with an eye for how people interacted with one another.

Most interesting of all, the interviews themselves helped

The authors conclude with this point I loved, which suggests that just asking repeatedly helped people get engaged in their goals.

Finally, these results provide further evidence that a minimal and unintended “intervention” to nonresolvers, such as periodic telephone calls in this study, may facilitate the progression from “thinking about” change to “doing something about” change in a sizable proportion of the adult population. Fully 54% of our initial pool of nonresolvers moved from the contemplation stage to the action stage within four weeks and with three brief telephone contacts. Although these nonresolvers were originally included as a control sample to permit more sensitive comparisons to the resolvers, their experiences have had the salubrious effect of alerting us to the natural progression from contemplation to action and to the potential of brief psychosocial interventions in changing health behaviors in the general population.

If you want to support someone in the achievement of their goals, this study’s authors might say that you would focus on the techniques in the “More successful” techniques section. Perhaps:

  • Ask about their goals and how you can support them. If it’s you, ask for help if you want it.

  • If desired, help change the resolver’s environment. If it’s you, ask for help changing your environment.

  • Encourage them to reward themselves if they want to. If you want to reward yourself, you might work with your team to set up a reward system in advance.

  • Praise them for their will power and sustained efforts if they’re comfortable with praise. If it’s you, praise yourself!

  • Help them avoid situations that cause harm or difficulty if they want help. If it’s you, do what you can to avoid challenging situations.

[Remember, of course, that these people had agreed to participate in this study. Just nagging is unlikely to help any more than nagging generally helps, and criticism is probably actively harmful.]

IDWAI: Make SMART New Year’s Resolutions Together and Post Them

In general, I use the SMART-goal model to make goals at work and at home. The model says that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely (SMART). So the goal of “I want to exercise more” is less likely to be successful than the goal of, “I want to exercise for 30 minutes three or more times per week through Dec 31.”

At work: Many of us are still working remotely and looking for ways to connect with the humanity of a team we aren’t interacting with live. Could we create some limited New Year’s resolutions that we share with our teams? Could we empower an ambitious junior teammate with the periodic check-ins? The accountability boost would be significant for those who are simply lacking the “willpower” to achieve them (hi there, Gen Z!).

At home: Why not make resolutions with your family members this weekend if you haven’t already? Obviously, we’ll want to post our New Year’s Resolutions on the wall so we can’t forget them. (I’m looking at you, fellow Gen Xers.) Maybe the younger kids can decorate a poster or tracking chart for us. We can discuss our progress periodically over dinner to model grit for our children and encourage them to use the thought processes shown to be helpful in achievement of goals, New Year’s or otherwise.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions to recommend or any techniques you find helpful? Good luck — and have a magical 2021.

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