First of all, Happy New Year 2019! It’s about that time that everybody starts making a progress on the New Year resolution. Asking people around me, the most common goals this year will be: eat healthy food, join the gym/do sport, and ultimately finish PhD. However, it is also not a very rare to receive answers such as: “I don’t have anything specific”, “I don’t make one”, or “It didn’t work last year, it stressed me out”. The fact is, it is actually a very common case as research has shown that most people will stop progressing around June (see next section). However, my ultimate question is, should this particular finding discourage you to keep making a resolution?
Well, I will probably be that one person amongst your friend advocating that you should have one. Why is it so important? For me personally, it is always a good thing to have something that makes you excited all year. Especially, in my case, being a PhD and also an international student, this is a rare opportunity of having the experience of living abroad. There are so many things I want to accomplish outside my PhD and also it is essential to occasionally disengage from PhD matter. Choosing one or two activities that can help me stay sane is not trivial. So as you can guess, most of my New Year resolution is dealing with trying new things. Having said that, it’s probably applicable too for cases where we are not dealing with new stuff. Let’s see.
Why It Does Not Work?
One of the most popular or most cited scientific articles related to New Year’s resolution can be found here (the free version can be found here). So, what they did in this research? From, what I gathered myself (I’m no psychologist, by the way), they made two groups of people, one was called resolvers and the other one was called non-resolvers. Resolvers are the group of people who determined to change one or some of their behaviors and actually made the resolution. They were said already in the action stage. Whereas the non-resolvers are the group of people who did not actually make the resolution but still had a behavior or some behaviors they wanted to change. They were said still in the contemplating stage. The results were predictable, as you can imagine. By June, the number of people who still progressing was 46% in the resolvers group and only a staggering 4% in the non-resolvers group.
First, yes it is true that it’s better to have a resolution or to actually commit something in a behavioral change. Second, it also shows us that less than 50% from both resolvers and non-resolvers still progressing by the month of June. What did happen there? Here, I will quote exactly what they wrote in the paper on the discussion part:
“Desire to change did not make a difference in success. Successful resolvers used more self-liberation, stimulus control, reinforcement management, positive thinking, and avoidance strategies to keep their resolution. Non-successful resolvers used more self-reevaluation, wishful thinking, self-blame, and minimized threat than the successful contingent.”
“Finally, these results provide further evidence that a minimal and unintended ‘intervention’ to non-resolvers, such as periodic telephone calls in this study, may facilitate the progression from ‘thinking about’ change to ‘doing something about’ change in a sizable proportion of the adult population. Fully 54% of our initial pool of non-resolvers moved from the contemplation stage to the action stage within four weeks and with three brief telephone contacts.”
My conclusion, first, in order to succeed with our resolution, we have to use self-liberation, stimulus control, reinforcement management, positive thinking, and avoidance strategies. In addition, we have to avoid self-reevaluation, wishful thinking, self-blame, and minimized threat strategies. They actually explained each of these strategies in a bit more specific manner, but what I find quite interesting and pretty clear is wishful thinking does not help at all. Hoping that our problem will magically go away, actually, do some serious damage in our progress. On the other hand, positive thinking, imagining what the good things that will come when we actually achieve our goal, give us some power to keep progressing. Well, you can read the rest of the paper yourself. In conclusion: more action, less thinking.
It is important to note that this research is more than 15 years old, so I believe there should be a more updated version of this research or do we really need a new research for this purpose? Tell me if you find another one that is relevant. I’m curious.
How to Make One That Actually Works
Since New Year 2016, I have used this method that I call “25-to-5” elimination method. I wrote something about it ages ago and you can read it here, but it is not necessary, because I will explain it again. Why do I encourage you to do this method? Because it works for me! Trust me, it works.
Let me show you how this method works.
- List everything you want to do this year on a piece of paper. Make them very specific. If you want to do volunteering, where do you want to do it, when do you want to do it, which organization, etc. If you want to read a book a month, what kind of book? Fiction or non-fiction? If this is about getting fit, what kind of sports you will possibly do? If you can make it until 25 bullet points, that is great. If you don’t, try to be more creative.
- From these 25 points that you just made, draw the circles on only five of them. Five that makes you very excited just by thinking about them. Those are your top priorities for this year and you will do your best in order to accomplish them. How about the other twenties? Forget about them this year. They only make us busy in our mind and make us lose focus on our top five goals. For example, if I write “Learning how to play squash” and it doesn’t make the cut on top five, I will just forget about it this year. I will no longer invest my time to watch squash video tutorials, or try to find cheap squash racquet and ball on the internet, or browsing all the possible clubs that I can join, etc. In return, I can invest that much spared time for my actual top-five priorities.
It works for me and certainly, it has drawbacks. If you are a very adventurous and spontaneous person, I’m afraid this list-method is not for you. I’m the type of person who likes everything organized, so it’s perfect for me. If I have to make some special note on this is, be realistic. One of the things I wrote down for New Year 2017 was being vegetarian, instead of being vegan (yes, this is specifically for you people who try to attempt Veganuary this year). It looked easier than being a vegan, obviously, but turned out, it was still unrealistic for me, considering I was an omnivore and I still am. So when the first two weeks looked so hard, I hugely modified this goal to this: “vegetarian weekend, less or no red-meat weekdays”. The new one worked more beautifully because, until today, I still manage to have this diet and probably be more ready now to take the next realistic step. Who knows?
Last year, three of my New Year resolution I consider as a success. My first resolution is I wanted to be a little bit healthier and fitter by running/jogging regularly. I achieved this by joining Southampton Parkrun (they can be found here). As a bonus, in the end, I’m not running just for Parkrun, but also independently anytime if I’m not busy with my PhD. Progress-wise, the first time I did 5-km run in Parkrun, I finished it in 38 minutes. Now, I can finish it in 28 minutes. Not very impressive, but it’s still progress! I even finished my first ever half-marathon race! Second resolution, I wanted to do some volunteering, so I accomplished this by joining October Books volunteers team (they can be found here) and Mu Collective at Mutrend Lab (they can be found here). Third, I wanted to learn new languages, so this year I joined the German class and the Mandarin class for beginners. I also use mobile applications such as Duolingo (look into it here) and Memrise (also here). I actually got 100-day streak in Duolingo. It’s a hurrah for me!
Does it make my achievements this year limited to my New Year resolution? The answer is NO! A big NO! When I achieve one of this simple goal, or I think I can manage one, there is a sense of gratification flowing in my head and it keeps me super motivated doing anything else. Well, I have other things that I can consider achievements this year, but they are not really relevant or worth mentioning in this context here, otherwise, it will look like a low-key humblebragging from my side! Having some manageable and achievable goal is very fulfilling, believe me.
So, what are you waiting for? Make your New Year resolution now and make sure it works! It’s not too late.