New Year’s Resolutions: Are They Effective?

At the beginning of each new year, many of us engage in the age-old practice of New Year’s Resolutions, where we commit to a change in our lives.  Obviously, smoking less, eating less and healthier, exercising more, and reducing adult libation top the lists of things we seek to renovate about ourselves.  These are important decisions and we often spend a great deal of time and effort attempting to moderate our behaviors to create a new reality of ourselves.  However, many researchers point out that it is human nature to look for quick answers to these habitual, bad behaviors.

In peer reviewed study dealing with the psychology behind resolutions, 92% of people who made resolutions failed to achieve them.  One-third of people actually gave up in the first month and more than one-half gave up before six months.  This means that one-third of the people who engage in resolutions are living sub-optimally for nine months of the year while one-half are living sub-optimally for six months of the year.  Does this sound familiar?

One resolution that some make, especially after spending feverishly during the holidays, is to improve our financial situations.  As a grandfather, I get caught up in fulfilling the needs and wants of my children and grandchildren, and I struggle to find balance.  After the holidays, I find myself looking for ways to reduce expenses and maximize my investments in order to counter the unbridled holiday spending.  It seems illogical to make a resolution like this once per year when in reality it should be a year-long endeavor.

You may be asking, “What is the solution?”  We know that change occurs when the pain of change exceeds the pain of the status quo, so why wait for the one time of year to make a change?  By engaging in this once-a-year ritual of resolutions, are we really saying that change should occur but it is not important enough to do right now?  This is probably where we fall short as it reflects a real lack of commitment to change.

Understand that true commitment equates to immediate change and that habits are routines that are ingrained in our brains due to frequency and repetition.  A habit we want to change may be related to others habits that we need to change in order to be successful.  In other words, it is important to understand the root causes of the habits we wish to change.

In business schools, we talk about the processes of unfreezing behaviors in our followers, freezing the new habits or paradigms, and then the continually reinforcing new habits and paradigms through intrinsic or extrinsic rewards.  As self-reflecting individuals, we need to identify the stimulus or cues that lead to a behavior that we desire to modify, which requires brutal honesty.  Next, we need to identity those habits and stimulus at the beginning of each day and think about how we will moderate or eliminate those undesirable habits.  This could be done simply by placing sticky notes on the bathroom mirror of the habit or paradigm that needs to change.  This allows you eat the elephant in small pieces each day, which helps create lasting change.  Finally, reward yourself, either physically or emotionally, in order to reinforce new behaviors and paradigms.

Another way to reinforce change is to replace bad habits with good habits.  For example, if you are a smoker or an overeater, you might replace those habits with exercise.  If you have a habit of spending beyond your means, perhaps engage in budgeting activities that require you to keep better records and analyze spending habits.  Whatever you decide to change, change now, and make it important in your life all year long.

Mike “Q” Quaintance, MBA

Business Department Chair, Keiser University Ft. Myers