Turning New Year's resolutions into reality
Do you know the phenomenon of making a list full of New Year's resolutions like quitting smoking, losing weight, doing more sports, etc. that you give up at one time or another? Don't worry, because you're not alone! Norcross and Vangarelli (1988) showed in their longitudinal study that 77% of resolvers keep their promises for one week, 55% for one month and only 19% after 2 years. The failure rate is probably underestimated since self-assessment is vulnerable to social desirability (Koestner, 2008). The statistics of Miller and Marlatt (1998) are comparable. Among those who have achieved their top resolution, only 40% were successful at the first attempt. The others tried several times and only 17% succeeded, after more than six attempts. As you have seen, the wording of the New Year's resolutions does not guarantee their implementation.
Do you wonder why behavioural changes are so difficult to achieve?
From the appearance of a New Year's resolution to its success, we pass through several stages that pose different challenges. According to the theory of hope of Snyder et al (1991), we identify three different levers: goal setting, agency or pathways. Let's explore these three themes in more depth:
Setting SMART goals - It is not always easy to formulate the objective we set for ourselves. For example: "In 2019, I want to lose weight." I'm sure many of us are familiar with this kind of New Year's resolution. What is stopping us from doing it? In fact, our wording does not give us any hints on how, when, in what context, with whom, until when to achieve our objective. Therefore, it is important to define SMART objectives, which means specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and time-bound objectives. Our objective in the example above could be formulated as follows: "Until next June, which means in 25 weeks, I would like to lose weight, more specifically, 10kg. » This gives us a precise framework that allows us to approach our goal gradually.
Increasing (intrinsic) motivation - For Snyder, Irving et al (1991, p. 287), one of the two dimensions that define hope is the positive motivational state ("agency" or "willpower"), which means the perceived energy to implement the necessary strategies to achieve the objectives. According to the theory of self-determination (Deci & Ryan), this willingness to act can be increased by meeting the three basic human needs: autonomy, competence and relationships. Sarrazin, Pelletier, Deci, & Ryan (2011) compare a human being with a plant that "will thrive if the three fundamental nutrients of sun, earth and water are present. Man will experience well-being and develop harmoniously if his three psychological needs are met..." (Sarrazin et al., 2011, p. 305) If our motivation for the objective is intrinsic - that is, if we feel autonomous, competent and connected to others - then there is absolutely nothing that could hinder the achievement of our resolutions. It is interest, pleasure and inherent satisfaction that guide us. In Lucie's case, it would look like this: Lucie is free to choose how to design her sport sessions (autonomy), if she wants to participate in a class or rather follow her own programme, if she wants to ride a bike or rather run. She will start with improving her endurance and strengthen her muscles rather than train for a 42km marathon (skill/mastery). Registering in a gym will allow her to build a network of friends with whom she could share moments of exercising (relationships/connection).
Generating pathways - The presence of trajectories to achieve the objective is another dimension of hope (waypower) according to Snyder et al. (1991). This operational dimension relates to the strategies and resources developed and implemented to achieve our objective. It is about answering the question "how will I achieve my resolution? " by taking into account possible obstacles. According to the rubicon model of action phases (Heckhausen, 1986; Heckhausen & Gollwitzer, 1987; Achtziger & Gollwitzer, 2008), we often remain stuck in the post-decisional or pre-action phase. At that moment, we "passed the rubicon". This metaphor goes back to Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon River after weighing the pros and cons of the passage. He thus irreversibly triggered the Roman civil war. Let's get back to our resolutions! It is in this phase after the "passage of the rubicon " that we often fail because we forget to implement our intentions with the help of an action plan (also called action planning according to Leventhal, Singer, & Jones, 1965), in which we specify when, how, how much time etc. to pursue our objective. Let's take a look at Lucie's example: "For 2019, I definitely want to take up sport again. I know that it makes me feel good and that it is beneficial for my health to be physically active on a regular basis. Nevertheless, it also means that I will come home even later, but it won't be every day. Registration at the gym is not cheap either, but perhaps it is a good long-term investment? (Pre-decision phase). Well, I'm going to look for a nice gym next to the office and subscribe the first week in January (rubicon passage, post-decision phase)." At this stage, what does Lucie need to do so that she won’t get stuck and have the same resolution on her list for 2020? She should implement an action plan that could be as follows: "On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'm going to shorten my lunch break to go to the gym. After exercising, I'll have my lunchbox that I brought from home. Having lunch three instead of five times at the restaurant will also save me a little money. If I ever have a customer appointment or a meeting at the time I plan to do sports, I will go either on weekends or after work if my husband can pick up the children and I will arrive a little later. Every Monday, I will include both sessions in my agenda." Thanks to her reflection, planning and anticipation of obstacles, Lucie can commit all her efforts to the execution of the planned actions.
Lucie's case was just one example to illustrate more concretely how to ensure the implementation of your resolutions. Now it's your turn to play! Have you already made a list of New Year's resolutions for 2019? Take it out and allow yourself to cross out a few of them. Why? Because less is more. Formulate your objectives in a SMART way. Ensure that your needs for autonomy, control and connections are met. Make a concrete action plan that will guide you on your journey. Merry X-Mas and a happy New Year, dear reader.
Written by Larissa Kalisch
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- Heckhausen, H. & Gollwitzer, P. M. (1987). Thought contents and cognitive functioning in motivational versus volitional states.of mind. Motivation and Emotion, 11, 101-120.
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- Miller, Elizabeth T. and G. Alan Marlatt (1998), “How to Keep Up with Those New Year’s Resolutions: Researchers Find Commitment Is the Secret of Success,” http://www.washington.edu/newsroom/news/1997archive/1297archive/k122397.html
- Norcross, J. C., & Vangarelli, D. J. (1988). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1(2), 127-134.
- Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., … Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(4), 570–585.