Eight years ago, my New Year’s resolution was to “try a new form of exercise.” That January I started yoga. Less than one month later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For months during my treatment, yoga — especially restorative yoga — was the only form of exercise I could do.
As a result, I am a big believer in modest New Year’s Resolutions. Every year, I joke that my resolutions are “don’t start smoking” and ”don’t gain any more weight”. I’ve been 100% successful on the first two resolutions and pretty good on the second.
About half of all Americans make New Year’s Resolutions. The most common resolutions are about losing weight, exercising more, eating more healthily, going to the gym, spending less or saving more, and drinking or smoking less. More than half of people who set resolutions expect to succeed, but just 12% actually do.
As in so many things, there are big differences in the the way that women and men think about New Year’s resolutions:
- Almost two-thirds of women say they make resolutions every year, compared with just over half of men.
- Women are more likely than men to say they will spend more time with friends or make new friends; have more fun; learn a new language; donate to charity; or be more organized.
- Men are more likely to resolve to get a better job or to spend more time doing what they love. They are also more likely to resolve to quit smoking or drinking.
- Women are more likely to succeed in meeting their goals if they tell family and friends about them.
- Men are more likely to succeed if they set specific goals such as “lose a pound a week” rather than focusing on losing weight and if they focus on the rewards of success (such as being more attractive if they lose weight)
- Men are more likely to report that they stick with their resolutions, for at least part of the year, than are women.
Keeping in mind that most resolutions fail, the most successful resolution for both women and men is to enjoy life more. Almost a third of those who resolve to do so stick with it. More than a quarter of people are successful with resolutions to improve fitness, lose weight, be more organized, quit or cut down on drinking/smoking.
No surprise: resolutions made on New Year’s Eve after imbibing some bubbly are more likely to fail. The best course of action is to plan ahead.
Researchers suggest working on just one thing at a time. If you can break your resolution down into specific habits you’re more likely to succeed. For example, instead of resolving to lose weight, work on starting a tiny new habit like going for a 10 minute walk every evening after dinner. Finally, being able to “practice” your new habit every day seems to help.
With all that in mind, my New Year’s Resolutions this year are not to start smoking (why fight a winning resolution?) and to try another new form of exercise. I’m going cross country skiing for the first time in January.