When it gets closer to the twelve-stroke on New Year's Eve, many of us promise to change things in the new year. Often, however, our new behaviors do not last very long; there is for instance usually plenty of space again at the gym already in February. It is common to go too hard at the beginning while it is easy to fall back into old habits. After a setback or two it is easy to give up.
Despite this, psychological research shows New Year's resolutions are surprisingly good at creating lasting behavioral changes. It is all about being a bit more prepared for the twelve-stroke—having realistic expectations and emphasizing the achievement is not about a short sprint but rather a marathon race in combination with an obstacle course.

How are those resolutions going?
The new Swedish book "Tio i Tolv” (Ten to Twelve) published by Natur & Kultur explains why New Year's resolutions are a smart means for getting started on new habits. With the help of studies and surveys on goals, routines and procrastination, the reader learns how to more easily succeed with a change. The book is based on the world's largest scientific study on people's New Year's resolutions, co-authored by Per Carlbring, Alexander Rozental and Martin Oscarsson of Stockholm University.
“New Year's resolutions as a basis for behavioral changes are clearly underestimated,” says psychologist Martin Oscarsson, who carried out the study on this often slightly looked down upon tradition. The type of goal can determine whether the New Year's promise will be a success or a disappointment.


The study behind the book is the largest so far in the field and internationally, and it is unique with its long follow-up period. In total, 1,066 people were included in the internet-based study, and participants were regularly monitored for 12 months.
Swedes, however, seem to be disillusioned in their willingness to make New Year's resolutions. Surveys have shown that between 12 and 18 percent of Swedes make them, while the figure here in the U.S., for example, is between 40 and 50 percent. Regardless of nationality, fewer than half manage to keep their resolutions after six months. But wishes and promises of behavioral changes that are given in connection with “milestones," such as birthdays, holidays, etc., are nevertheless relatively viable, research shows. And in the Western world there are few, if any, more obvious collective milestones than a New Year's Eve.
Perhaps the single most important factor for succeeding in keeping the New Year's resolution is the goal of the promise, according to results from Oscarsson's study.

“We found a significant difference in success between participants who had an achievement goal and participants with an avoidance goal," according to Oscarsson. An achievement goal is something you want to start doing or do more of— like starting to exercise or eating healthier food—while avoidance goals can be to quit smoking, stop stressing and the like.
“If the purpose is to avoid something, you should formulate it as an achievement goal in the form of a new habit that replaces what you want to end with. In our study, 59 percent of the participants with achievement goals managed to stick to their New Year's resolutions even after 12 months. Among those with avoidance goals, the number was 47 percent,” says Oscarsson.

Tio i Tolv
181 pages, published by Natur & Kultur
ISBN: 9789127823761 (print)
ISBN: 9789127823778 (electronic)

If you formulated your resolution as an achievement goal in the form of a new habit that replaces what you wanted to stop doing, you are more likely to be successful.