We're a few days in to the New Year. How are those resolutions going? Among Americans who intend to make a 2018 New Year’s resolution, “Be a better person” topped the list for the second year in a row (tying with “weight loss” for the No. 1 spot), according to a new Marist Poll that surveyed adults in November. This year, the importance placed on behavioral change marks a transition from the previous decade, during which weight loss topped the list 80 percent of the time. As those making resolutions look back on the year that has passed, considering their actions, goals, ambitions or moral decision-making, it’s becoming more common to consider changing social norms and behaviors for the better.
But because “Be a better person” is such a broad resolution, how does one attempt it? According to Dr. Paul Marciano, clinical psychologist and author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, attempting a resolution with such a sweeping definition influenced by a variety of values requires first identifying the behavior you associate with it.
“I think that it’s a great goal, but you have to know what it actually means,” Dr. Marciano says. “The first thing I would do is I would think about people I consider role models in terms of being a better person. What are the qualities, characteristics and behaviors associated with it?”
He then suggests breaking those behavioral goals into a weekly or monthly basis and sharing them with friends and family who you request hold you accountable. “You want to create a structure that pulls you in and sets you up so you feel less inertia when you want to engage in that behavior.”
Among the other resolutions, 16 percent of Americans surveyed said they’d like to lose weight, while nine percent said they'd like to exercise more. “With weight loss tying for the No. 1 resolution, and exercise and healthy eating making the top five, health is top of mind,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. Nine percent would like to eat healthier and seven percent surveyed said they intend to improve their overall health.
“And if the past is any indication, many Americans have a good chance at keeping their promises for at least part of 2018,” Dr. Miringoff says. Among those surveyed who made a 2017 resolution, 68 percent said they kept at least part of their promise.
For all goals, Marciano suggests prompts as the single-most effective thing that you can do to find success. That might mean sticking a note on your mirror with a goal and corresponding check box next to it. “People are more successful when it’s literally in front of their face,” he says. And the final experiment: at the end of the year, can a stranger say that you've reached those goals?
“If I can’t evaluate it on some sort of a metric, then you’re not going to be successful in achieving it,” he says. "If you want to be successful and define behaviors, you have to make it so that someone can actually evaluate them.”
But how many Americans will even follow the resolution trend? Only 44 percent are likely to do so, according to the Marist Poll, a number identical to those reported in 2017. And Americans under the age of 45, including 63 percent of residents under the age of 30, are more likely than their older counterparts to alter their lifestyle in the coming year.