BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6845 (Published 30 December 2016)Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6845
Made any New Year resolutions?
Not really. I follow Oscar Wilde: “Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil.”
Bit harsh, surely?
Possibly, but the psychological literature isn’t terribly encouraging. One study showed that 22% of people who made them admitted failure after only a week, 40% at a month, 50% at three months, and 81% after two years. Most likely the real figures were even higher because these were self-reported .1
Yet people still make resolutions
They do. The change of year seems to offer a chance to change lifestyle as well as the date. Giving up smoking, losing weight, or drinking less are the commonest. Among students, resolving to work harder is common.
And they all come to naught?
Not entirely. People can change, though it’s hard. Even if only a small proportion succeed, that’s better than nothing.
Those warnings about the middle classes damaging their livers with booze were well-timed, then
Not really. The psychological literature agrees that to have a chance of succeeding, resolutions must be autonomous, not imposed from outside by social pressure.
Any other tips?
Resolutions should be realistic, specific, and not too numerous. Most importantly, they should include a plan of implementation: not only what you want to achieve but how you plan to do it. Compliance with drug taking, for example, is greater if patients have a plan for when, and where, they will take their pills each day. Good intentions need to be reinforced by a good plan.
Shouldn’t this be trialled?
It has been. Male undergraduates at Bath University were encouraged to examine their testicles monthly for lumps (signs of testicular cancer). Those with a plan specifying when and where they would do it were nearly three times as likely to do it—and six times as likely to still be doing it a year later—as those without a plan. Granted, feeling your testicles once a month would be an unusual New Year resolution, but it shows the way forward. Oscar might have been wrong.