Why Do We Make Resolutions? How Social Groups Can Help Us Keep Them


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Roman god Janus

The Roman god Janus illustrates our need to look forward and backwards in the beginning of a new year. Image by Abode of Chaos.

Blame the Romans for your yearly struggle to make and keep New Year’s Resolutions.  The quirky website Notes from the Curator traces the tradition to the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways, who faces both backward, looking to the past, and forward, looking to the future, and for whom January is named.

Each January 1, according to Proactive Change, a life coach company, 40 to 45% of Americans make resolutions. Of those, 46% keep them for six months. How to take advantage of this ancient tradition, and make those resolutions stick for a more prosperous New Year?

Keep Resolutions by Tapping the U.S. Government

The U.S. Government has gotten the holiday spirit, posting a list of popular New Year’s resolutions and links to official government organizations dedicated to providing solid information on the resolution of your choice.

Click “Drink Less Alcohol” for instance, and be taken to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  Want to get in shape?  Click on “Get Fit” and find yourself at the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.

New Year’s Resolutions 2013: Keep on Track with a Social Group

One of the most common goals is to stop smoking, according to Bay County Health coordinator, Lisa Rahn in Panama City’s New Herald. Rahn says smoking cessation often tops lists of goals she sees in her work at the health department.  Smokefree.gov reports that 40% of ex-smokers said that the support of friends and family “mattered a lot” in their success.

Writing down goals, and sharing them increase success. Image by spaceamoeba.

Writing down goals, and sharing them increases success. Image by spaceamoeba.

In general, linking with others to reach goals helps. Research by Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University of California divided people into five groups with increasing levels of commitment required.  The most successful group had to “both write goals and action commitments and also share these commitments with a friend…plus sending a weekly progress report to a friend.” Of the study participants who stayed active, those in this group met 76% of their goals.  Matthews stated that her study demonstrated the importance of “accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals.”

Dr. John Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, is an expert in personal change. After first deciding that change is possible, Norcross explained the second step in an interview with Maia Szalavitz, “Prep is the second stage. That’s planning, starting to practice the new behavior. You can’t just root out the old. So if the goal were, say, to reduce  drinking, what behavior will replace it? At this stage, you also begin to arrange for a support  system and make a public declaration.”

Make a Change in 2013

In this age of the Internet and social media, finding information to make a plan and drumming up a group to support you is easier than ever. Round up your posse and keep those resolutions this year!


Dominican University of California. Study Backs Up Strategies for Achieving Goals. Accessed December 30, 2012.

Krystek, L. New Year’s Irresolutions: Notes from the Curator’s Office(2007). Accessed December 30, 2012.

McCarthy, J. Quitting Smoking Often Tops New Year’s Resolutions. The News Herald. (2012). Accessed December 30, 2012.

Proactive Change. Research: Statistics on New Year’s Resolutions(2012). Accessed December 30, 2012.

Smokefree.gov. How to Help Someone Quit. (2012). Accessed December 30, 2012.

Szalavitz, M. How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick. CNN Health. (2012). Accessed December 30, 2012.

USA.gov Popular New Year’s Resolutions. (2012). Accessed December 30, 2012.

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