For millions of Americans, the start of a new year means finally starting their New Year’s resolution. A 2017 survey of 1,129 American adults revealed that 41% usually make a New Year’s resolution.¹ That means 100 million Americans are poised to make or start New Year’s resolutions.
To understand the most common resolutions, we reviewed survey, search, and social media data from multiple different sources (see our methods section below). The most common resolutions are related to improving physical health, specifically through weight loss, a healthier diet, and exercising more.¹,³,⁴,⁵,⁶ More than 50% of people are including a healthier diet, more exercise, or weight loss as part of their overall set of resolutions.³ This means that you are more likely than not to make one of your New Year’s resolutions changing your diet or exercising more in the pursuit of being healthier, and most likely in an attempt to lose weight.
The most common resolutions are to lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise more—and most fail to achieve their resolution.
The top 3 failed New Year's resolutions are:
People fail significantly more frequently with weight resolutions than with non-weight-loss resolutions.² That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth making a resolution at all, though. Making a firm resolution leads to more success than just having a tentative goal or non-committal desire,² with one survey reporting that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions.¹ While improving physical health is a common resolution among many of us, it also turns out to be a common failure.
Resolutions only really matter if you actually stick with them—but unfortunately, most people don’t achieve their resolutions.
See footnote 2 for the detailed analysis of these data.
Why do people fail at their health goals? The answer to this question is complex, and not well-studied. Some sources will point to a lack of willpower or motivation. Two surveys³,⁴ found that over 50% of respondents claiming the combination of lack of commitment, motivation, and willpower caused them to fail their resolution. We think that misses the point. At the beginning of the year, when you first make a resolution, most people feel very high levels of motivation—that’s why they are making a resolution in the first place! The more interesting question is—what is causing this steady loss of motivation over time? Our best guess is that while most people pick resolutions that they sincerely want to achieve, the methods they pick to go about achieving them are flawed. Just because you want to lose weight, eat healthier, or exercise more does not mean that you know the best way to accomplish the individual steps needed to make and maintain these new habits.
Many experts disagree on the most effective methods for losing weight. That’s why figuring out what works for weight loss, and what you can stick with, is challenging. It’s easy to find multiple studies, even review articles and meta-analyses, that claim opposite perspectives. One meta-analysis will claim that exercise is an effective method for weight loss,⁹ and then another review article will demonstrate that exercise of all sorts, including aerobic training, resistance training, combination training, and pedometer step goals, does not prove to be an effective method for weight loss,⁸ and at best, provide modest weight loss—around 2 kg (4.4 pounds) in a year.⁸ People have been trying to “eat less, exercise more” for years, but many people don’t see long-term results with this tactic.¹⁰
The lack of consistent data, and the fact that dietary and exercise preferences vary widely between individuals, means that we can’t tell you which diet or exercise program is best for YOU to lose weight.
The best plan for losing weight is one that is personalized to you—your body, your preferences, and your unique biochemistry.
Many people pick whatever methods are common or fashionable (as they are top of mind) or most extreme (promising fast results). This leads to negative feedback cycles—you try your best to perform the tasks you think are necessary to achieve your goal, but the tasks are difficult to maintain and make habits of, and worse, you barely see any improvement. Very few people can stick with repeating difficult tasks with low payouts—the sensible thing to do in these situations is typically to quit!
Don’t pick methods that you don’t at least like a little bit, because you won’t stick with them. Focus on making the necessary changes enjoyable, and you will be much more likely to stick with them.One last bit of study data—when asked what “would help you keep your New Year's resolution to do with your health and wellbeing,” the top 5 answers⁴ were:
Virta provides all of the above. You can learn more here.
To understand the most common resolutions, we found survey data from multiple different sources. Survey data, while limited in sample size (n), was the most direct data we could find. We did find some less direct but higher sample size data analyses of Twitter posts and Google searches. It is important to note that all of this data on the most common resolutions is not peer-reviewed or published in academic journals—so take it with a grain of salt, the way you would a political poll. At the time of publication, we could not find a peer-reviewed study on the frequency of different categories of New Year’s resolutions.
You can read a more detailed analysis of the data we found in footnote 1.