Why those good intentions often go up in smoke

January 6, 2011

Assessing why some people stick to their new year's resolutions while others fail at the first whiff of chocolate may not be an exact science, but that has not stopped academics attempting to investigate the ritual.

Some of the research is detailed today in a list compiled for Times Higher Education by Thomson Reuters analyst David Pendlebury, who selected classic examples from the Web of Science database.

Among them is an analysis titled "Losing weight - an ill-fated New Year's resolution", which proved controversial when it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998.

"Today, at the start of the new year, millions of Americans will resolve to lose weight, but by tomorrow, or next week, or maybe next month, most of them will have given up trying," it begins cheerily.

"Cigarette advertising to counter New Year's resolution", published in the Journal of Health Communication in 2000, found advertising by tobacco companies increased in January and February, apparently with the aim of derailing smokers' efforts to quit.

According to John Norcross, professor of psychology and distinguished university Fellow at the University of Scranton in the US, 75 per cent of those who make new year's resolutions are sticking to them after one week but this drops to 40-46 per cent after six months.

But despite all the failures, those who make resolutions are still more likely to change their behaviour than those who want to change but do not make a new year's pact.

The tradition of making resolutions goes back to Roman times, Professor Norcross reports, and since then the new year has become a "socially sanctioned time where the plate is clean and everyone has a new opportunity".

His tips on how to succeed include setting realistic goals, recording progress, rewarding success and avoiding exposure to "high-risk situations".

And for those who, one week in, have already lapsed, all is not lost: 71 per cent of those who are successful say their first slip-up served to strengthen their subsequent efforts.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments