New Year’s Resolution specificity key to success

By Declan Harty

The scene is the same every year on Dec. 31: The clock hits midnight, the ball drops, and couples share a midnight kiss. While many people promise next year will be different and set New Year’s resolutions, they ultimately do not accomplish the goals they set.

Most Americans tend to follow the status quo of making resolutions for the New Year. According to a study conducted by the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology, in 2014, most Americans’ resolutions could be summarized into four categories: self-improvement, weight, money and relationship-related resolutions. The five most popular 2014 resolutions are lose weight, get organized, spend less and save more, enjoy life to the fullest and staying fit and healthy, according to the study.

According to the same study, which surveyed more than 200 adults, 8 percent of Americans are successful with their resolutions. Thirty-nine percent of people in their 20s who were polled are successful in reaching their goal, compared to 14 percent of people who are 50 years old or older.

Melanie Tannenbaum, doctoral student in psychology, said that to be more successful with a New Year’s resolution, an individual should choose “SMART goals,” which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-framed goals.

“If you set specific measurable things within a time frame, then it makes people more likely to actually pursue that,” Tannenbaum said. “So you really want to strike that balance where something is challenging enough that it motivates you to keep working at it, but achievable so people won’t give up.”

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Gracie Cannell, junior in LAS, said she set a specific New Year’s resolution: to not buy any clothes for the whole year.

“Over New Year’s, one of my friends came into town, and I gave him one of my pairs of pants that had a big hole in them,” Canell said. “He is beginning to get involved with patching pants and he did this awesome patch on the pants, and it kind of reminded me of how recycling can be awesome.”

Cannell said she believes her wardrobe is large enough to last for the year, and she plans to learn how to patch clothing.

Cannell said that in previous years, she never fulfilled her resolutions, such as “developing a new hobby,” because of their lack of specificity.

“When you are at school, especially if you are in college, you are so busy with your day-to-day life. You aren’t really thinking of your resolution,” she said.

Tannenbaum said social media can influence how someone looks at the smaller goals necessary to reach the final goal. It also can affect whether the person views the smaller goals as “progress” or “signs of commitment.” How some people communicate their progress toward their resolutions can affect their actual commitment to achieving it.

“People are often inclined to (share) as a form of progress, like they’ve actually done something toward achieving it by telling people about it,” Tannenbaum said. “That can actually make people less likely to do some of the other things that might matter more.”

The act of sharing one’s progress toward a New Year’s resolution can also create a false sense of accomplishment and can allow the person to feel entitled to a break despite a lack of actual progress, Tannenbaum said.

Although 2014 has just started, more than a quarter of the public polled has given up on their resolution for the calendar year, the study stated. And on Friday, many more will likely join them, given the day is recognized as National Resolution Ditch Day.

The day provides people the opportunity to give up on their resolution for the day, a resolution that many did not actually believe they would fulfill, according to a survey conducted by FranklinCovey in 2008. The survey stated that more than a third of the 15,000 respondents surveyed were never fully committed to the resolution, and by the end of January, only 23 percent of them had still not broken their resolution.

Despite the increasing number of people who are unsuccessful with their resolutions, the practice of setting a New Year’s resolution is still popular in Western culture, according to Anthropology Professor Brenda Farnell.

“A New Year’s resolution offers the same kind of promise of renewal on a personal or individual level,” Farnell wrote in an email. “Western cultures place a high value on two cultural ideologies or beliefs — the individual person and progress. So, an individual commitment to personal progress or improvement in the form of a New Year’s resolution complements our cultural celebrations of the New Calendar Year.”

Declan can be reached at [email protected].