How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Duke experts provide goal-setting tips for 2017

Whether losing weight, calling a parent more or learning a new hobby, New Year’s resolutions are created with good intentions.

But according to a 2016 Duke study, people who make resolutions experience dwindling commitment, confidence and effort as the year progresses.

Rick Hoyle, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, along with Duke social psychology Ph.D. student Hannah Moshontz, surveyed 400 people across the country repeatedly in 2016 about the status of their New Year’s resolutions. The study focused on goal disengagement, or the act of adopting a goal and then discarding it later.

The top three types of resolutions that people in the survey made involved physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, and money and finances. They made an average of 2.63 resolutions each for the year. Halfway through 2016, 57 percent of resolutions were still “active,” while 26 percent were abandoned or in a break.

“What we think is going on is that people are engaging in a little bit of self-deception, where they generally believe that they’ll return to their goal and they really see themselves pursuing it, but they’re actually not doing much to pursue it,” Moshontz said.

Here are five ways to stick with your resolutions this year:

Set concrete goals
Be specific when defining a resolution. Instead of setting a broad “get healthy” goal, ask yourself: do I want to lose a certain number of pounds? Do I want to lower my blood pressure? Or what exercise activity do I want to start, and for how many days a week? “Setting concrete goals where you can objectively monitor your progress is going to be very helpful,” Moshontz said.

Start small
Set goals in manageable increments so you don’t burn out from the get-go. Instead of a resolution to lose 50 pounds, set a goal to lose one pound per week, said Robin Beaudin, a care manager with DukeWELL, a program that works with Duke employees and community members to manage chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. “If patients tell me they want to lose weight and lose 50 pounds, that would be nice, but it’s not a reasonable goal,” Beaudin said. “We talk about small changes to their diet and increasing their exercise.”

Pursue a goal with others
Join a group that can help you stay on track, like a jogging group or crafts class. “We’re pretty good at self-deception when it comes to monitoring our own progress,” Hoyle said. “Other people may be willing to tell it like it is.”

Don’t get discouraged by “mistakes”
Don’t be hard on yourself if you flub a resolution, such as skipping pottery class one week or having a sweet treat one night rather than vegetables. “It’s important to stay positive and motivated,” Beaudin said. “If people fall off track, try to get back on track the next day.”

Reward yourself at the finish line
Give yourself an incentive. For example, if a goal is to complete a Spanish class in the spring, treat yourself to a night out after the last class. “Find ways to find motivation,” Hoyle said. “Maybe I reward myself with something I really want every time I reach a milestone.”