Health and Fitness

Re(think)solutions

August 2, 2023
Yat-Yee

Did you know January 17th is Ditch-Resolutions Day?

Apparently, this is the average date most people who start off a new year with determination would give up.

Some people succeed without making resolutions. Others have given up on them because past experiences tell them New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

If you’re in the first group: congratulations! You are an inspiration! If you’re in the second, maybe there are reasons not to completely give up on this tool for personal development.

a man with roller skates landing on his bottom

You say you've failed in past resolutions before. Here's my question:

did you fail completely* or did you fall short of your goals?

In other words, was there progress made even though you didn’t get to where you wanted?

I’ll wager that it’s the latter.

darts on a board
Photo by vedanti

What is success?

Before we proclaim something a failure, we have to first define success.

When it comes to fulfilling resolutions, success is often defined as achieving the goal exactly as it is set up at the beginning.

This problem with this definition is that it implies anything other than achieving the specific goal is a failure.

According to this, there is no success shown in this photo.

When you recall  your resolutions in the past, did you consider your efforts at the beginning days or weeks as failure?

But how could those be failures? You DID something.

Yes, you didn't go far enough to achieve the goals you set. But even those 6 mornings you got up early to run--no matter how slowly or how reluctantly-- before giving up were successes.

Bite-sized successes, but they are not failures.

You are better off than if you hadn’t made that resolution.

a man sitting down with a bottle of water and wiping this brow
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

At this point, you may feel patronized or even insulted. Please believe me that I am not belittling your capacity for success. What I say about those tiny steps being successes instead of failures in no way diminishes all the times in the past you've shown determination and perseverance and achieved worthy and difficult goals.

wooden sign post in a field

I am bringing up the possibility that you have short-changed yourself if you consider the results as failures and not success.

What if you change your view on success and failure? What if you look at those experiences not as proof that you’re ill-disciplined or without grit but a sign that

  • you did something to change what you didn’t like, and
  • you now know where in the process you need to improve.

Data on New Year's Resolutions

If you need more than encouraging words, here is some data.

But first,  a word about how data is presented. More often than not, when someone wants to make a point, they highlight the portion of the data that supports it.

I am sure you have read or heard many times about the abysmally low percentage of people who actually succeed in fulfilling their resolutions.

piece of paper show graphs

Whenever you see numbers, find out at least the following:

  • Is the percentage quoted of the general population or of those people who have made resolutions?
  • How does the study that is quoted treat the partially-kept resolutions?

Here is an example from a YouGov study done in 2019. It showed that in 2018, only 4% of the adults in the US surveyed kept all their resolutions. If this were the only number we're given, we may conclude that 96% of the population failed in their New Year's Resolutions.

Look further, and you'd noticed that in that sample, 46% of the people surveyed didn't make any resolutions at all.  What that means is of those who did make resolutions, 8.6% of them succeeded.  

That still means 91.4% of the population failed, right?

Not so fast.

This study shows a separate category for those who made resolutions and partially kept them: 52.1%  

The percentage of people who made resolutions and didn't keep any of it: 28.2%

If you were to consider (and I'm not saying you need to because here I am definitely presenting data in a way that could persuade you to view things the way I suggest) those who did keep some of their resolution as having achieved some degree of success, then

68.6% of people who made resolutions succeeded.

If 8.6% still seem unremarkable, let's look at what happened in 2020. Only 27% of the population made resolutions. Of those

  • 35% kept all their resolutions!
  • 49% kept some of their resolutions
  • only 16% didn't keep any of it
  • 1% don't know/can't recall

In a year then things upside down and sideways, 84% of the people who started resolutions kept some of part of their resolutions.

More than a third completed them!

a young black woman with a smile

What's the big deal about resolutions?

You may still be unconvinced that partial fulfillment should be counted as success, and you're not impressed by the 8.6%. The 35% completion took place in a  strange year and could simply be an anomaly. For you, It is still "no, thank you" to New Year's Resolutions. Is that so bad?

Of course not. No single step  can guarantee success. In fact, many people make progress year after year without doing it.

However, let me offer have one more bit of data. It shows that at 6 months, 46% of those who did make resolutions were still keeping them. Among those who didn’t make resolutions but had similar goals? Only 4%.

It is time to rethink New Year's resolutions

The zeitgeist or popular opinion of “don’t make resolutions, they don’t work” is not true.

Today may be Ditch-Resolution Day, but it could also be a Start-a- Resolution Day.  (In fact, any day can be that. )

I am not saying that by doing so you'll have an easier road to success. What I am saying is that rejecting a tool based on faulty information packaged as common knowledge, you are not equipping yourself with everything available for success.

If you do nothing else, at least take a look at your past failures and see what you learned in your efforts. The results could be just the extra encouragement you need to undertake that project you have been considering.

I wish you success.

* Even though the photo remind us of our own butt-on-the-ground moments we'd rather forget, I would argue that the fact that he had strapped on the roller skates and tried to skate is a win.