As the New Year festivities are approaching, I’d like to talk about the New Year’s resolutions, again. Again, because I already spoke about them a year ago and my main message was that it totally makes sense to make New Year’s resolutions – you are more likely to achieve your goals if you set them. Nevertheless, some people argued with me saying that I only used one study and there is at least one by the same author that states that in two years one’s chances to achieve their goals are very slim, only 19%.
Well, I won’t argue with that, especially given that there were indeed not one or two, but three studies by the same group of researchers. So, today, I will be even more scientific and review all of them. First, of all, let’s talk about the studies.
There were three studies – the first one was published in 1989 and was based on the data on 200 subjects who made New Year’s resolutions and were followed by the researchers for 6 months to see if they managed to fulfill their aspirations (40% of them did). The main issue with this study was the fact that there was no control group and in 2002 they published another study that included 159 resolvers and 123 non-resolvers i.e. people who had some goals for the New Year, but did not formulate them as New Year’s resolutions. I used this study for my previous blog – 46% of resolvers achieved their goal at 6-month mark whereas only 4% of non-resolvers did. Finally, they published a third paper, which described the 2-year follow-up of the first study cohort and indeed their success rates were 19% at the 2-year mark.
The pooled success rates
Now, when we have the data from the 3 studies, we can do a quick and dirty meta-analysis and pool all the data into one dataset. The studies were conducted by the same group of researchers, using the same methodology, so pooling the data seems to be an appropriate thing to do. We have data on resolvers from 3 studies and data on non-resolvers from one. The results are presented in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Pooled success rates in resolvers vs. non-resolvers
As you can see, there is a clear difference in terms of success rates between resolvers and non-resolvers – the resolvers were much more (~11x) likely to achieve their goals over the course of the first 6 months compared to non-resolvers.
I must note that there are couple of problems with this chart:
1. I personally question the validity of the 2-year success rate statistic as the New Year’s resolutions are made for 1 year by definition, but I can see the utility of it simply due to the fact that most of the New Year’s resolutions reflect some long-term if not lifelong goals.
2. We don’t know the 2-year success rate for non-resolvers (and I’d like to have this information or at least to compute it based on the data we have).
3. While the chart properly illustrates the proportions of resolvers and non-resolvers achieving their goals, the time scale is non-linear, so it’s somewhat misleading and needs adjustment.
In other words, we would like to be able 1) to accurately predict the success rates at any given moment of time since the resolution was made for both resolvers and non-resolvers and 2) to properly represent them visually.
The estimated success rates
In order to properly represent the data, we will use a scatter plot and draw the trend lines illustrating the estimated success rates for both resolvers and non-resolvers (Figure 2). As you can see, in both cases the relationships are non-linear, and the resulting models reflect them quite well.
Figure 2. Estimated success rates for resolvers vs. non-resolvers
Now, with these data we can see three things:
1. The models are quite accurate in predicting the likelihood of success (the R2 coefficients are close to 1).
2. We can have an estimate of the likelihood of success in non-resolvers even though we don’t have the real-life data on it.
3. Making a New Year’s resolution drastically increases the likelihood of success depending on time since the resolution is made.
Basically, with this chart and the mathematical models at hand, we can estimate your success rate at any given moment in time, and that’s what I would like to do next.
Success rates for 2020
So, now, when we have the mathematical apparatus to make predictions, let’s try to calculate your rates of success in any given month of 2020 given that you make your New Year’s resolution on December 31st, 2019 (or you don’t). The estimates are presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Projected monthly success rates for 2020 in resolvers and non-resolvers
As you can see, if you make a resolution on December 31st, 2019, your chances of sticking to it, say in June 2020, 6 months after you made it, are 38.7%, which is 7 times more likely than if you didn’t make such a resolution (in that case, your chances are just 5.5%). Or, by the end of the year, you’re 9.46 times more likely to achieve your goal if you had made the resolution compared to not making it (30.9% vs 3.3%). You can print this table and use it as a visual reminder for your resolutions, which I hope you will make.
In conclusion, I have several points to make:
1. Making a New Year’s resolution increases your chances of achieving your goal – you are several times more likely to achieve it in the new year.
2. People who don’t make resolutions will likely not achieve their goals as their chances are approaching zero as the time goes by.
3. Mathematically, the longer the time since the resolution the harder it is to stick to it, but at the same time the ratio of success between resolvers and non-resolvers increases, so, again, making that resolution is much better than not making it.
And, my final point, which has little to do with math and research – these are just estimates that are based on other people’s past behaviours. You are the one who can make the resolution and to see it through. You don’t have to leave it to chance, you are the master of your own destiny. So, make your resolutions and make the changes in your life happen – you can do it! Use the SMART goals – it will help tremendously (I have a blog on that too, check it out).
Now, it’s the most appropriate time for me to wish you a Happy New Year – I hope that you will make your resolutions and will see them through. Again, I hope to be part of your self-improvement journey so feel free to ask me any questions and make comments, reach out for collaborations, and of course, subscribe to this website and to my YouTube channel – I am constantly working on new educational and research items to share with you.
Happy New Year,