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By Joanna Manero

Happy New Year! With every New Year, come the return of New Year’s resolutions. In fact, 41% of Americans usually set a resolution. It is evident when you step into the gym or look at your social media that a large percent of these resolutions have to do with nutrition and exercise. Although those new gym-goers and social media enthusiasts may seem motivated and committed to their resolutions, most of them will drop their resolutions and return to old habits. So how can we help people remain motivated and committed to their health goals? Let’s look at a longitudinal study that examined fidelity and success of New Year’s resolutions.

A sample of 213 men and women who made New Year’s resolutions were recruited. On average, participants made 1.8 resolutions which consisted of giving up smoking (30%), weight loss (38%), and relationship improvement (5%), among other resolutions. Researchers found that after just one week, nearly a quarter (23%) of participants reported failure in keeping their new year’s resolution. After one month, over half (55%) reported failure. And finally, after two years, only 19% of participants had kept their new year’s resolution. No effects were found for age, gender, or particular resolution. Furthermore, these numbers are likely elevated by the nature of the volunteer sample and participation in the study. When researchers asked about methods that led to a successful resolution, they found that multiple methods worked and were dependent on the stage of change of the person. Any single method had a moderate effect on success at best. Some of the successful methods were counter conditioning, in particular, using exercise, a gradual reduction in behavior rather than cold turkey elimination, stimulus control, and contingency management. When asked about what caused participants to fail, the most frequent response was the lack of will power. Finally, most participants experienced slip-ups on their journey. When asked about the cause of these slips, the top responses were a lack of self-control, stressful situations, negative emotions, and social pressures. (Norcross and Vangarelli, 1989) Although this study took place in the late 80’s, the factors affecting fidelity and success remain relevant.

Lack of self-control was the most frequent cause of slip-ups in keeping a new year’s resolution. In the past, self-control has been described as a limited resource, much like a muscle gets tired from exertion, and self-control becomes depleted and causes failure of a task. However, motivation can temporarily block the effect of ego-depletion that is associated with overused self-control (Roy et. al, 2007). Similarly, motivation was found to have a moderating effect on task completion when self-control was depleted. In particular, people with motivating thoughts that their efforts could benefit themselves or others had greater success in completing a task when self-control was depleted (Muraven and Elisaveta, 2003). This research suggests that although self-control may be a limited resource, motivation may aid in task completion. It is important to motivate your clients throughout their journey. Find out what motivates them; this can include positive feedback, reminding them of their goals, or even the act of overcoming a challenge.

Often the causes of failure and slip-ups can be just as important as the causes of success. By identifying past causes of missteps, you can help the client plan for triggering situations in the future.

Here are some quick tips to help keep to your new year’s resolution:

Stressful Situations/Negative emotions:

  • Become Aware of your Stressors- By recognizing what makes you stressed, you can better plan for the situation.
  • Attempt to Reduce the Intensity of Your Emotional Reaction- Ask yourself, “Am I viewing the situation in an exaggerated manner? Have I overcome a similar situation in the past?”
  • Build on your Social Circle- Seek support from close friends and family about the stressful situation.
  • Recognize What’s in your Control- What can you change about the situation? Can you attempt to tackle the problem little by little?

Social Pressures:

  • Practice the Buddy System- Find a friend who shares your goals for the new year and supports each other in social situations.
  • Practice saying “no”- Rehearse scenarios in your head and practice saying “no”, it will help your confidence.
  • Think of the consequences- Imagine giving in during a social situation, then image the consequences of your actions; do they outweigh the immediate pleasure?
  • Avoid stressful situations- If you can, avoid situations where you know you will be tempted to break your goal.


What are your with New Year’s resolutions?

Share what makes you, or your clients, more likely to achieve them.

What will you do to help your clients stay on track this year? Share with others your methods of encouraging motivation throughout the whole year.

Hope your 2017 is filled with joy!

This was posted by Robin Allen, a member of OneOp (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the OneOp Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebookon Twitterand LinkedIn.

Flickr CC Navy NADAP Make a New Years Resolution taken March 5, 2013