- INSIDER polled more than 1,000 people living in the US about New Year’s resolutions, specifically how long they should last.
- Most Americans agree that, if you’re going to resolve to try something new in 2019, you should try to stick to it for at least a few months.
- That advice squares well with what scientists know about behaviour change, but they also say it’s best to start small and be specific.
On New Year’s Eve, when spirits are bright, it can feel like a hopeful moment to pin one’s ambitions on being a far better person in 2019. The truth, however, is a bit bleaker. We often aim too high with our new year’s goals, with 80% of people failing New Year’s resolutions by February.
But still, year after year, we continue to make (and break) these goals. Perhaps because we think we can make it last a little longer.
To get a sense for how long people think resolutions should last, INSIDER, a sister publication of Business Insider, asked more than 1,000 Americans “how many months is it reasonable to expect someone to keep a New Year’s resolution?”
Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of their expectations, and some tips to help you stick to your goals for longer than what others might expect.
94% of respondents said people should keep their resolutions for at least one month.
The type of resolution you make could play a part in the success rate. Yale psychology Professor John Bargh previously told Business Insider that the most successful resolutions are small, reasonable changes that we can seamlessly incorporate into existing daily routines.
He says you shouldn’t even try to bust a big bad habit or start a new regimen unless you really, really want to, because otherwise the resolution likely won’t stick. Behaviour change is hard.
By the end of February, 22% of people have decided it’s OK to give up on new habits.
Still, a majority of Americans – 86% – say it’s best to keep chipping away at your New Year’s goals.
To maintain new behaviours, psychology professor Wendy Wood at the University of Southern California says you should put them into practice in routine, easy-to-follow ways. In other words, if you make a New Year’s resolution a habit or daily reflex, it’s more likely to stick.
78% of those surveyed think it’s still a good idea to maintain new year’s ambitions at the three-month mark.
But by the end of March, 35% of respondents think it’s fine if your resolutions have gone by the wayside.
In April, more than 120 days after people resolved to be better in the new year, 65% of respondents think you should keep on trucking.
Brain scientist Ann Graybiel from MIT argues that habits can form outside of our awareness, and take a long time to develop into something that’s second nature.
Over half of respondents say you should still be trying to stick to your resolutions in May.
Behaviour expert Kathleen Vohs from the University of Minnesota knows better. Her studies suggest that resolutions work best when we keep things simple and stick to a routine.
The more decisions we have to make, and the more options we have to choose from, the harder it becomes to maintain self-control. This is why, for example, many people choose to exercise in the morning before the day fills up with chores and possibilities.
Halfway through the year in June, exactly 50% of respondents agree that New Year’s resolutions are still worthwhile endeavours.
For those who are still trying to stick to resolutions after six months, it’s helpful to remember that goals we see as fun and easy to accomplish work much better than scare tactics based on fear and regret.
Only 36% of respondents think you should still be expected to stick to resolutions in July.
By this point, nearly 200 days into the year, it’s possible your so-called “resolution” is the new normal.
By August, 30% of people think you should still stick to your goals.
Replacing an old behaviour with a new one can be an effective way to enact change.
Want to drink less? Fill your cup with something else. It’s much easier than swapping a beverage for an empty hand.
In September, only 26% of people think we should still be expected to hold on to New Year’s resolutions.
Bargh says we have to be consistent with our resolutions in order for them to work.
“You’ve gotta do it every time,” he said, otherwise, “your body and mind are not going to take you seriously.”
Our body will end up doing whatever it did yesterday, by default.
“It’s a relationship like any other, and you have to establish trust,” Bargh said.
By October, the number of Americans who expect us to still be resolute whittles down to 23%.
At this point in the year, pretty much everyone who thinks it’s best to stick with a resolution is likely in it for the long haul.
“Things get more efficient and require less of your conscious mind over time,” Bargh said.
By November, 80% of Americans say it’s just fine if you’ve given up on a resolution, while just over 20% still think the goals are worthy.
But remember, psychologists point out that the best New Year’s resolutions are the ones that don’t rely on what others think.
“I would only do them if you really, really want to change,” Bargh said.
By December, less than 20% think you need to bother sticking to a resolution.
It’s almost time to craft a new one, anyway. Then again, it might be worth skipping a resolution this year and just giving yourself a pat on the back.
After all, truly “long-lasting change is most likely when it’s self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking,” as researchers at Harvard Medical School have discovered.
SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,037 respondents, margin of error plus or minus +/- 3.15 percentage points with 95% confidence level.
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