Last week we asked our readers about New Years’ resolutions. We said we wanted to know whether resolutions made on New Years’ Day were any more effective than commitments made at other times of the year. We are interested in that question, but we didn’t tell you about the question that interested us the most: How many different resolutions should you make?
Our son Jim made so many resolutions this year that he actually organized them into subcategories. This struck us as not a very good idea — if you make lots and lots of resolutions, then you may not be as committed to each one. At the time, we didn’t have any data to back up our hunch. Now we do. We asked readers which of 13 common New Years’ resolutions they had made this year, and we also asked how successful they had been so far in keeping to those resolutions. Only about a week into the year, the average success rating of our 228 respondents was just 59 percent. And indeed, there was a significant negative correlation (r = -.15) between number of resolutions made and success rating.
So it seems that making too many resolutions is indeed a problem: the more resolutions you make, the less likely you are to keep them. The correlation did not hold up for previous years, however. One possible explanation for this is that respondents forgot about some of the resolutions that they didn’t manage to keep.
But there were also lots of other interesting results in our study. As we mentioned last week, newspapers, web sites, and blogs like to give top ten lists of resolutions. Usually, however, these reports don’t offer any data to back up their claims. Did our respondents rank their own resolutions in a similar order? The table below compares our results to two of the top-ranking lists of resolutions from a Google search:
Exercise topped our list, but it placed #2 on About.com and #4 on USA.gov. Spending time with friends and family, #1 on the About.com list, ranked ninth on ours, and didn’t even make the USA.gov list. Quitting Smoking and cutting back on drinking, which seem to be popular items on nearly everyone’s list, didn’t even make our top ten (it’s possible that our readers are a group who don’t smoke/drink as much as the general population). Getting organized, #3 on our list, was #10 on About.com and didn’t even make the USA.gov list.
Getting back to the original question, though: How do New Years’ resolutions compare to other resolutions or commitments made during the rest of the year? Here’s how the two lists compare:
As you can see, the two lists are practically identical: no item (other than “other”) is more than two slots away from its spot on the other list, and discounting “other,” the top five spots are exactly the same. So are we better at sticking with the resolutions we make on New Years’ day? Here’s a graph of those results:
It’s quite clear that we’re no better, and in fact, respondents indicated that they were significantly less effective at keeping to the resolutions they made on New Years’ Day over the course of their lives compared to resolutions made at other times of the year.
Any thoughts as to why this might be so? Let us know in the comments.