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Are You Making a New Year's Resolution This Year? Readers Weigh In

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Key Takeaways

  • A survey of our readers shows an increased desire to make a New Year's resolution this year.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has affected goal achievement, but not goal-setting.
  • Physical and mental health are a priority heading into 2021.

At the end of a year in which goals and resolutions set last January have all but gone out the window due to unforeseen circumstances, people are reevaluating their New Year’s resolution plans for 2021. While the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic could easily make people throw resolutions to the wind, it is instead causing many people to buckle down and keep pushing for self-improvement.

According to a recent survey of Verywell Mind readers, at least 44% of respondents plan to make resolutions this year. On top of that, 30% say that experiencing the pandemic has made them more likely to make a resolution this year.

Making Resolutions During COVID-19

For 15% of the survey respondents—who are primarily female, white, and over 55 years old—resolutions are a given at the turn of the calendar every year. Meanwhile, 44% of readers say they sometimes make resolutions, and only 34% remember making one for 2020.

If respondents who plan to make a resolution for 2021 end up doing so, it will represent an increase over the past year, so it's natural to wonder how much the pandemic has affected folks' decision to make (or not make) a New Year's resolution.

The Pandemic Doesn't Have to Be a Goal-Deterrent

With only 16% of readers saying the pandemic has steered them away from making a resolution, it had the opposite effect on almost double the participants. Why could this time of turmoil lead to a larger number of people making New Year’s resolutions for 2021?

“People have had more time to reflect on their lives this year. A slower pace meant people could really step back and examine what is important to them. And for some, that may mean implementing some changes in the future,” says Amy Morin, LCSW, the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind.

2020 Has Brought Physical And Mental Health Into Focus

When asked what type of resolutions they planned to make, physical health is overwhelmingly a top priority for our readers. After a year that left people unable to get out much, and closed many of the usual means of getting exercise, it’s no surprise that 80% of readers are targeting physical health-related goals in 2021, whether that means eating healthier, getting more exercise, or losing weight.

Mental health and relationships with friends and family are the next two most common focuses for resolutions, mentioned by 40% and 30% of respondents, respectively. Other types of New Year’s resolutions people plan to make this year include specific skills and hobbies, financial goals, romantic relationships, and children.

Lockdowns, social distancing, and job loss made a lot of these types of goals unattainable in 2020, through no fault of the people who set them. It's clear that folks are eager for better times ahead, and a potential return to normalcy as distribution of COVID vaccines become more widespread.

Setting Goals Is Easy—Meeting Them Is the Hard Part

Regardless of what type of resolution they set, only 5% of readers said they always share their goals with others. This hesitation to have an audience to your resolutions may come from the fear of not achieving them.

Just over one-third, 36%, of readers reported rarely or never meeting their resolutions. However, at 60%, many more people said they sometimes meet their goals—an encouraging sign. There is no shame in being part of that 36%, and the fact that people will continue to set goals despite not hitting them in the past should be seen as an inspiration.

Amy Morin, LCSW

Keep in mind motivation will decrease over time so you’ll need strategies that will help you stick to your resolution even when you don’t feel like it.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

Seeking self-improvement is a worthy goal in and of itself, and shows the kind of resilience needed to overcome the struggles of a year like 2020 and come out the other side a stronger person.

Why Some Choose Not to Make Resolutions 

Of the one-third of people who said they would not be making a resolution, 47% said it’s simply not a part of their traditions. Others reported that they try to improve throughout the year with statements such as:

  • I don't wait till New Year to do what I need to start
  • I don't need to make improvements based on the beginning of a new year.
  • I try to live my best every day

Even if you don't make a resolution now, that doesn't have to mean you've given up on goals for the whole year. In fact, removing the pressure of the traditional New Year's resolution and setting a mid-year goal could be a helpful shakeup.

For other readers, the pandemic is enough to deal with, and following through with resolutions may not have worked in the past, saying things such as:

  • There is too much uncertainty in the world
  • Enough stress already
  • If I do, I usually don't go through with it

Choosing a Resolution That Sticks

While picking an over the top goal can be enticing, if you do choose to set a resolution, there are some steps you can take to make it stick. “It's important to consider whether your resolution is actionable, measurable, and reasonable,” says Morin. “Saying things like ‘I want to be healthier’ isn't likely to lead to change. Instead, it's important to set goals you can track, like going to the gym three days a week.”

When you can see definitive progress and steps in the right direction, it can be easier to stick to and fulfill your New Year’s resolution. This is the principle behind the idea of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Small, Actionable Steps

Morin recommends considering the steps needed to accomplish these goals before setting them. This preparation can help set you up for success as the year goes on.

Deciding how to track your progress is one way to stay on top of your resolution. “Keep in mind motivation will decrease over time so you’ll need strategies that will help you stick to your resolution even when you don’t feel like it,” says Morin.

Some techniques to consider are a weekly log of anything you’ve done to attain your goal, having a check-in buddy to encourage each other throughout the year, and setting benchmarks to reach throughout the year that act as achievements on their own. The positive vibes of even small successes can serve as a powerful motivator to keep going.

What This Means For You

If you end up falling off your New Year’s resolution as early as January 2nd or as late as December 30th, don’t take it as a failure, or as a reflection of who you are. You may make a goal on January 1st and, by June, realize that your priorities have changed and that your resolution no longer lines up with where your time and energy are needed.

And if you don't set a resolution for 2021, that doesn't mean you can't hit self-improvement goals throughout the year anyway. Resolutions don't work for everyone, so it's important find a goal-setting strategy that works best for you.

“It's important for people to assess their resolution periodically,” says Morin. “If the goal is too big or needs to be shifted, you can make those changes. You might also discover your resolution isn't what you hoped. Perhaps getting in shape takes away more family time than you anticipated. Or maybe you aren't seeing the progress you wanted to make. Assessing how to make healthy shifts to your goals is important. Then, you won't abandon them altogether just because it's not working.”

Methodology

This survey was conducted from 12/10/20 to 12/21/20. Respondents are Verywell Mind readers living in the U.S. and over the age of 18.

Age: Gen Z 1% | Millennial 5% | Gen X 17% | Boomer or older 77%

Region: Midwest 19% | Northeast 24% | South 32% | West 24%

Background: White 77% | Black or African American 7% | Hispanic/Latino or Latinx 6% | Asian 3% | Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 1% | American Indian or Alaska Native 1% | Middle Eastern or North African 1% | Other 3% | Prefer not to answer 5% 

Gender: Male 20% | Female 78% | Non-binary/third gender 0% | Prefer not to answer 2%

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