Many people make New Year’s resolutions—but how many actually follow through with them? Statistics show that six months after optimistically setting their intention, the majority of people—54%—don’t keep it. The numbers are even more discouraging by the end of the year, when one study showed that only 9% of those who set New Year’s resolutions had success in seeing them through.
These stats are not inspiring when determining whether to declare a resolution, yet perhaps there’s another way to look at the situation. The fact is that people who bother to set resolutions still have some advantages in reaching their goals over those who don’t. Consider these alternate data points as you ponder the value of laying out concrete resolutions early in the year.
A good percentage of people who make resolutions still succeed
According to one study, even after six months, 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it.
This is the flip side of the six-month percentage above, but it’s a more motivating way to think about the effectiveness of resolution setting. While it’s true that over half of those who make New Year’s resolutions ditch them halfway through the year, it’s equally true that close to half of all resolution setters are still on track to reach their goals by mid-year.
Six months isn’t a full year, but you can still accomplish a lot in this time frame—and had you failed to identify a resolution, you may have made no progress at all. As a resolution setter, you’re better off for your efforts through the first half of the year than if you had made no effort.
As an executive coach, I often advise my clients on this strategy to help keep their resolutions going strong: schedule a monthly check-in on your progress toward each resolution. Then in May, calendar a reminder to revisit these resolutions and reignite your commitment to them. If you’re falling short of your goals by June, then redouble your efforts.
In comparison to resolution setters, of those who have similar goals but set no resolution, only 4% are still successful after six months.
These statistics are surprising—and lean in favor of resolutions. Flipping the numbers again, this means that 96% of those who don’t create an annual resolution are unsuccessful in reaching those goals, from losing weight to returning to school. This percentage is far lower than the approximately half of people who made resolutions who did reach their goals.
This may seem like just a matter of semantics, but these words hold real-world weight. Stating a goal simply determines the end toward which you will direct your effort. But creating a resolution—resolving to change—means you have made up your mind to do or be something different. Comparing those two definitions, a free-floating goal feels hollow without the mindset shift a resolution requires. This is the business case for resolutions, full stop.
Millions still achieve their goals
Let’s also revisit the earlier stat that I shared, which based on a 2016 study showed that of the 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, only 9% successfully keep them by year-end. For context, consider that at the time of that study’s publication, the U.S. population was 323 million.
Crunching the numbers, you find that 11,918,700 million Americans actually did achieve their resolutions, and this number would be still higher based on today’s population. When nearly 12 million people succeed in something based on taking a simple action, the method isn’t exactly a bust.
Fresh starts can represent a needed push
Finally, longer-term, in-depth studies on what it takes for humans to instigate change within themselves also support the idea of leveraging the New Year to reach goals. Katy Milkman is a Wharton professor and researcher in the areas of psychology and economics with a focus on how to harness consequential behaviors for positive change. In Milkman’s book How to Change, she describes how she and her research colleagues identified what she terms the “Fresh Start Effect.”
After surveying Americans about their feelings on “fresh start dates” such as New Year’s or their birthdays, the researchers discovered that new beginnings offer a kind of “psychological do-over.” As Milkman writes: “We are more likely to pursue change on dates that feel like new beginnings because these moments help us overcome a common obstacle to goal initiation: the sense that we’ve failed before and will thus fail again.”
The Wharton professor thus suggests we consider setting resolutions on New Year’s and birthdays. “These new beginnings lead us to pause, reflect and consider the bigger picture which makes us more likely to consider trying to make a change,” Milkman writes. “Fresh starts matter.”
Real change—whether individually or organizationally—is always prompted by a new beginning or fresh start. Sometimes those new beginnings are forced on us, but even in the middle of the year, we get to create them. What resolutions might you revisit (or create from scratch right now) to help maximize your life and career opportunities? Don’t overthink this, just craft resolutions that feel good. If it turns out they were “too big,” overly aggressive, or not ambitious enough, you can scale them later on. Most importantly, enjoy this mid-year opportunity to start anew (again).
Tegan Trovato is the founder of Bright Arrow, an executive and team coaching firm. She has served as an executive or leadership team member for Levi Strauss, Xerox, Zynga, and Cielo.