Psychiatrist Recommends People Set Realistic New Year's Resolutions

Dec 31, 2018

The first day of the new year is a great date to turn over a new leaf, but setting an overly ambitious new year’s resolution may not be the best way to make a major change.

A 1988 study found that only 19 percent of people maintained working on their resolutions after two weeks. One possible reason so many fail is that people become discouraged if their goals are too difficult to achieve. 

“If [people] actually are able to set short-term goals that they can achieve,” said UPMC psychiatrist Vint Blackburn, “in the end they’ll end up achieving a lot of the same goals overtime.”

In other words, incremental success is easier, more sustainable and less discouraging.

For example, Blackburn suggested that instead of working out every day, maybe try for twice a week. Or don’t go cold turkey on smoking.

“While [completely stopping smoking is] very much an admirable goal, even if somebody were to cut down by half, that a huge improvement in health,” he said. “Ideally, we would want them to quit. But if they can successfully cut back for several months, they’re already on their way to quitting.”

Some improvement is better than nothing, Blackburn said, and you can always set another goal once you’ve achieved your first.

A 2015 Neilson Survey found the following as the 10 most popular New Year's resolutions among US consumers. 

  • Stay fit and healthy — 37 percent
  • Lose weight — 32 percent
  • Enjoy life to the fullest — 28 percent
  • Spend less, save more — 25 percent
  • Spend more time with family and friends — 19 percent
  • Get organized — 18 percent
  • Will not make any resolutions — 16 percent
  • Learn something new/new hobby — 14 percent
  • Travel more — 14 percent
  • Read more — 12 percent

(Photo Credit: Hannah Ownes/Flickr)