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Home » All, Goals, Habits, Taking Action

Resolving New Year’s Resolutions

By on January 7, 2011 – 10:35 am  No Comment

Emily vanSonnenberg, MAPP '10, designed and teaches the UCLAx course, Happiness: Theory, Research, and Application in Positive Psychology. She operates a private practice helping people cultivate meaningful and fulfilling lives, and consults for organizations on how to create desired outcomes and increase well-being. Through her articles and speaking engagements, Emily translates psychological research into practical guidance and goal-directed strategies for the general public. Full Bio. Emily's articles are here.



Celebrating 2011

Celebrating 2011

Happy New Year! How are those New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs) coming along? I know it has only been a handful of days, but today is ~ a good day ~ to check-in and assess how your goals are progressing or regressing.

If you already find yourself stumbling on those resolutions you’ve set, then let’s take a step back and gain an understanding of NYRs so you can move forward. If you’re progressing already, it may be helpful to read on to cement and sustain successful NYRs.

New Year’s Resolutions: Statistics of Success and Failure

A New Year’s Resolution is a vow to change a bad habit or start a new and advantageous one at the beginning of the new year. Below, are the most commonly set and failed NYRs, according to the U.S. Government:

Quit Smoking Now!

Quit Smoking Now!

  • Drink Less Alcohol
  • Get a Better Education
  • Get a Better Job
  • Get Fit
  • Lose Weight
  • Manage Debt
  • Manage Stress
  • Quit Smoking Now
  • Save Money
  • Take a Trip
  • Volunteer to Help Others

At quick glance, the common denominator existing among all of these resolutions that sets them up for failure is their lack of specificity. What exactly does “Drink less alcohol” mean? How about “Get fit”?

Research examining the success and failure of NYRs has shown that by mid-January, 30 percent of “resolutioners” have scaled back their NYR efforts; by June, most have given up their NYRs altogether. Additionally, despite 52 percent of participants feeling confident about the success of their NYRs, only 12 percent actually achieved them.

Interestingly, there are differences between men and women with respect to NYRs. Specifically, men achieved their goal 22 percent more often when they engaged in goal-setting techniques or focused on the rewards associated with achieving their goals. Women were 10 percent more successful when they made their goals public, derived support from their friends, and were encouraged to persist in the face of setbacks.

These NYRs statistics are discouraging. However, we now possess robust knowledge of goal-setting strategies supported by over 40 years of research. You do have the ability to achieve your NYRs. To refresh your memory on goal-setting theory and be well on your way to ensuring NYR achievement, keep reading…

 Goal-Setting Theory: A Review

A few days ago I wrote a PositivePsychologyNews.com article on goal-setting theory, Ready, Set, Goals! In brief, goals need to be challenging, specific, seem attainable, be pursued with high levels of commitment, and be associated with regular feedback that shows progress (or lack thereof) toward the goal.

As a refresher, here are 3 of the six findings described in the earlier article. These three findings are the foundational elements I used upon implementing my own recent goal-setting experience, which are illustrated in the example provided below.

Finding #3. Goals that are both specific and difficult lead to the highest performance.

Finding #5. High commitment to goals is attained when (a) the individual is convinced that the goal is important; and (b) the individual is convinced that the goal is attainable (or that, at least, progress can be made toward it).

Finding #6. Goal setting is most effective when there is feedback showing progress in relation to the goal.

Goal Setting In Action: A Case Study

Sweet Treats

Sweet Treats

Anybody who knows me knows that I always carry candy in my purse. Ever since I was a little girl, candy was my true love, though my parents fed me a tremendously healthy and nutritious diet for each meal (thank you, Mom and Dad)–so candy was a rare treat. Once I reached adulthood I realized, “I can eat whatever I want — I am an adult!” So, you can imagine. I went back to my childhood ways and began eating all the foods I snuck behind my parents’ backs: Double Stuf Oreos, Fruit Roll-Ups, and Haribo gummi bears.

After my sugar high wore down, a physiological yearning to add more nutritious foods into my body arose. Thus, I decided to implement goal-setting strategies to organize and manage the amounts of fruits, vegetables, and water I consumed each day.

I came up with a very specific major goal: to consume more nutritious foods by eating the recommended servings per day according to the Food Pyramid. Then, I set smaller, specific and increasingly greater intermediate goals for each successive week to move me in the direction of my major goal. Finally, to aid in my success, I created a table to track my progress with respect to the intermediate goals.

Below, is an amended 1-month goal-setting feedback table — including two days for each week — from the actual goal-setting excel sheet I developed. The goals are written in bold in the gray boxes. Feedback for each goal is located in the white boxes below the goal. I called it,

“Emily’s Yummy Food Adventure!”

Date Fruits
(1/day)
OJ
(1/day)
Veggies
(1/day)
Water
(2 glasses/day)
10/1/09 1 – apple 1 1 – artichoke 2
10/7/09 1 – blueberries 1 1 – asparagus 2
Date Fruits
(2/day)
OJ
(1/day)
Veggies
(2/day)
Water
(4 glasses/day)
10/8/09 1 – apple
1 – strawberries
1 1 – broccoli
2 – cauliflower
4
10/14/09 1 – avocado
2 – tomatoes
1 1 – artichoke
1 – eggplant
5
Date Fruits
(3/day)
OJ
(1/day)
Veggies
(3/day)
Water
(6 glasses/day)
10/15/09 1 – apple
1 – tomato
1 – avocado
1 1 – carrots
1 – green & red peppers
1 – corn
6
10/21/09 1 – grapefruit
1 – apple
1 – tomato
1 1 – asparagus
1 – yellow peppers
1 – eggplant
6
Date Fruits
(4/day)
OJ
(1/day)
Veggies
(5/day)
Water
(8 glasses/day)
10/27/09 1 – grapefruit
1 – apple
1 – blackberries
1 – grapes
1 1 – carrots
1 – Brussels sprouts
1 – artichoke
1 – spinach
8
11/2/09 1 – grapefruit
1 – apple
2 – grapes
1 1 – spinach
1 – broccoli
1 – cauliflower
1 – kale
8

How It Worked For Me

As you can see, by adhering to goal-setting strategies, I successfully moved toward my major goal to consume more nutritious foods. I kept an organized table where I could see my written goals, accomplishments, and feedback each day. Additionally, my goals felt achievable because I started small, and increased my servings per day each successive week.

Yummy artichoke

Yummy artichoke

The important factor I have not yet mentioned is that I only ate foods I truly savored. For example, for my taste buds, an artichoke is yummy!

 

One last component that encouraged me to maintain my new, healthy habit was teaming up with a childhood friend who wanted to achieve the same goal after she had heard of my quick success. Being women, we made a promise to each other that every day we would write each other supportive text messages encouraging the other to eat their fruits and veggies. Deriving support from friends (as mentioned above) made my new and positive habit change more fun and meaningful to me. I was not only in it for myself, but also in it for my friend.

All in all, using goal-setting strategies to facilitate NYRs worked for me. Still today, I am scarfing down those yummy artichokes–with lots of soda water. Okay, I like the carbonation! I made it work for me, and I am confident you can make your NYRs work for you too. Go for the goal(-setting)!

 

References

 

Klein, H., Wesson, M., Hollenbeck, J., & Alge, B. (1999). Goal commitment and the goal-setting process: Conceptual clarification and empirical synthesis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 885–896.

Life Clinic International Inc. (2010). Food Guide Pyramid.

Locke, L. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717. doi: 10.1037//0003-066X.57.9.705

Locke, L. A. & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey

Matsui, T., Okada, A., & Inoshita, O. (1983). Mechanism of feedback affecting task performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 31, 114–122. Abstract.

Popular New Year’s Resolutions. December 10, 2010.

Images
Happy 2011 to all courtesy of PG|Neto
Quit Now! courtesy of Rusty Haskell
Goals! courtesy of duncan
Cookie Party courtesy of Craige Moore
Yummy artichoke courtesy of Darwin Bell

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