America’s top three New Year’s resolutions are lose weight, quit smoking and exercise regularly. Somewhere up there must be to change drinking and drug use habits. Certainly the Jan. 1 hangover can provide some impetus for that decision.
Psychologists study New Year’s resolutions to analyze self-initiated behavior change. What makes them work, when they do?
Š Readiness to change;
Š Use of behavioral strategies;
Š Successfully weathering temporary setbacks.
University of Scranton psychology professor John Norcross, PhD. has studied the long term effectiveness of New Year’s resolutions, and found that 19 percent still stuck to their resolutions at the two-year mark.
Type of resolution, age and gender did not predict success.
Success came from avoiding stimulus, and by reinforcement of successful behavior (use of “behaviorally contingent rewards ... ).
“Consciousness-raising strategies” were not successful (“pictures of tar-blackened lungs ... taped to the wall, etc.).
“Self-efficacy, or the belief that one can effect and maintain change, also predicted resolution successČŘ¦ [S]elf-efficacy is a measure of personal belief in one’s ability to succeed at something—in this case, to succeed at changing ingrained habits. ...
These conclusions fit with a model of behavior change (references: Norcross, Prochaska, DiClemente) which see habit change as a process rather than as an event.
“Though there may be a last cigarette, the weeks or months leading up to that moment, as well as the daily decision to continue not smoking, are all integral parts of smoking cessation, theorizes J.O. Prochaska*. ...
So a New Year’s resolution can fit into the ‘stages of change’ model in which people move from contemplation to action. The action stage is where lifestyle changes are overt; it involves conscious decisions, actions, and planning. Merely wishing won’t make a New Year’s resolution succeed. You have to make a decision for change, and do something to enact change.
“Norcross found that readiness to change, or how prepared a person is to enter the action stage of behavior change, to be the single best predictor of New Year’s resolution success. ...
So strategies that work include:
Š doing things to reward new behaviors and
Š avoiding situations where the unhealthy behavior is likely to occur.
Thinking about the benefits of change can help push a person from contemplation to action. But the action stage is a time for decisions, choices, and longterm lifestyle changes.
Then what? How you deal with setbacks can be “key to maintaining new habits, ... says University of Washington psychologist G. Alan Marlatt, PhD. ...
People who are quitting smoking tend to have a cigarette or two along the way.
“Unsuccessful quitters, ... he says, “tend to fall into the trap of dichotomous thinking, viewing a single smoked cigarette as evidence that they just do not have the willpower to persevere. A successful quitter, on the other hand, might search for situational causes leading to the momentary failure, such as the presence of a smoking friend, and avoid the risky situation in the future. ... Most people, by the way, quit smoking on their own.
Are New Year’s resolutions worth it? Norcross notes that those who make resolutions are still 10 times more likely to successfully change their behavior than those who do not.
“Resolutions deserve a little more respect,” he says. “These people are taking on serious health problems, and many of them do succeed.”
Adapted from APA Monitor on Psychology Volume 35, No. 1 January 2004
Solutions to Resolution Dilution BY Sadie F. Dingfelder
Š Prochaska, J.O., DiClemente, C.C., & Norcross, J.C. (1992). In search of how people change: Applications to addictive behaviors. American Psychologist, 47(1), 1102-1114.
Happy New Year, everyone!