New year, new me – or not

Niall Maher analyses the data to see just how many people stick with their new year’s resolutions, and what resolutions are most likely to be completed successfully


Every year a sizable proportion of the population use the 1st of January as the starting point to make a new habit or end an old one. Recent research from the University of Scranton analyses just how popular New Year’s resolutions are and if they are effective. All of the statistics used are based on a survey of 1 562 respondents, of which 1,273 were online, 216 by phone, and 73 in-person. All of these respondents were based in the United States.

There is a clear divide in the population on whether to make resolutions or not. The percentage of people who usually make New Year’s resolutions and the percentage that absolutely never do are almost the same; 41% and 42% respectively. The remainder is made up of people who infrequently make resolutions. These people amount to 17% of the general population.

Resolutions 2

One of the most interesting aspects of the statistics is the amount of respondents who succeed in keeping their resolutions; just 9.2%. On the other hand, 42.4% of people try and fail every year to achieve their resolution, which is a somewhat depressing statistic. The largest group was the people who have infrequent success with their resolution. 48.4% of respondents make some sort of progress towards their goals but do not achieve enough to feel fully satisfied. This may be because they made multiple resolutions and only completed some of them so they cannot say that they have fully succeeded in keeping them.

The statistics also gave helpful pointers towards techniques that help you to keep your resolution. For instance, people who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to keep their resolutions over people who do not make explicit commitments. This is an enormous proportional difference. So if you are having difficulties this year at keeping your resolutions and you have not explicitly stated what they are, the data suggests that that could be your problem. Writing down the resolutions somewhere you can see them regularly could be a method for doing better next year or for trying again this year.

“One of the most interesting aspects of the statistics is the amount of respondents who succeed in keeping their resolutions, just 9.2%”

The study also provided interesting insights into what the most common type of resolutions were. Self-improvement or education-related resolutions came top of the list with 44.3% of people making a commitment. This broad area could consist of things such as learning a language, becoming more organized or reading more books. If you go to the gym you may have noticed a sizeably larger amount of people competing for equipment and space. This can be attributed to the second most common type of resolution and one the one that immediately springs to mind when you think of New Year’s resolutions: fitness-related ones. Almost a third of the population, 32.4%, have committed to either gaining or, more commonly, losing weight in the new year.

Resolutions 1

Another large proportion of the population committed to money related resolutions. 42.1% wanted to save more money or spend less on frivolous expenditure. This narrowly missed out on being the most common type of resolution (The percentage of respondents committing to resolutions is over 100% is because many of them made multiple resolutions. Unfortunately there was no research done on how many resolutions were made on average per person). The last large type of resolution made was relationship related-resolutions. Approximately one-fifth or 22.8% of people actively work on improving their relationships once January 1st comes around.

“Self-improvement or education-related resolutions came top of the list with 44.3% of people making a commitment”

The research also showed that age was a factor in how successful you are at completing your resolutions every year. 37.8% of people aged under thirty complete their resolution every year. This figure falls off dramatically as the respondents increase in age. The percentage of people over 50 who keep their resolutions every year has lessened hugely to 16.3%. An obvious cause of this decline is that the older participants have had made more new resolutions and so have more chances to fail.

A final topic that the respondents answered related to what length of time they managed to keep their resolutions for. Depressingly, only 72.6% managed to keep their resolutions for the first week. It is a rather sobering statistic that almost 30% of people failed to resist temptation for more than seven days. More optimistically, the proportion of people dropping out leveled out quickly as time went on. After two weeks, the percentage of people keeping their resolutions was 68.4%, a fall of only 4% from the previous weeks figures. This is nowhere the 27.4% that gave up in the first week. This shows that the first week is the hardest period during which to maintain your resolutions.

If you have at this point managed to keep your new habit since January 1st then you are on track to keep it into the future. The trend of the dropout rate decreasing as time goes on broadly continues into the rest of the year. 58.4% of people stick to their resolutions until February 1st, 10% fewer than those who manage to keep their resolution going for two weeks. Most importantly, 44.8% of people still maintain their resolution six months into the year. The percentage of people failing has decreased from 27.4% in the first week to 13.6% in the five months between February and the end of June. One of the most important takeaways from these statistics is that discipline in the first few weeks of January is the most important factor in keeping your new year resolutions.  

To a large minority of the population, January 1st is the day to make a new start and change aspects of your life that you dislike. The research from the University of Scranton gives revealing insights into the minds of people doing New Year’s resolutions and also in how to maintain them.