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Despite Last Year's Failures, Many Still Make Resolutions

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Despite Last Year's Failures, Many Still Make Resolutions

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Despite Last Year's Failures, Many Still Make Resolutions

Despite Last Year's Failures, Many Still Make Resolutions

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/374910875/374910876" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Did you make a New Year's resolution? If you did, our data expert Mona Chalabi says you're in the 44 percent of Americans who did. She tells NPR's Rachel Martin that keeping to them is another story.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: 52.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: 452.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: 25.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: 6.112.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: 25,856.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for some number crunching from our data expert Mona Chalabi from fivethirtyeight.com. She has given us this number of the week.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: 44.

MARTIN: And that is the percentage of Americans that said last month they were likely to make a New Year's resolution for the year 2015. And what do they want? To lose weight, live healthier lives, become better people. Mona Chalabi joins us from our studios in New York to talk more about this. Hey, Mona.

MONA CHALABI: Hi, Rachel. Happy New Year.

MARTIN: Happy New Year to you. So we know lots of Americans make resolutions for the new year, but do we know how many Americans are successful in keeping them?

CHALABI: Yes we do. Our number of the week comes from a survey that asked over a thousand adults if they'd be making a resolution for this year. And it also asked them if they managed to keep the resolutions they made last year.

MARTIN: Mhmm.

CHALABI: Only 41 percent said they had managed to stick to their resolutions for 2014.

MARTIN: Oh. I mean, 41 percent. That's not horrible but it's not so great.

CHALABI: No.

MARTIN: Do we know anything about how long people are able to keep them? I mean, how long does it take them to break the resolution?

CHALABI: Well, there's a professor of psychology who has been researching the way that people make and keep resolutions since the late eighties. Now one study from this professor - his name's John Norcross at the University of Scranton - contacted people who had made a New Year's resolution every couple of weeks by phone to see how they were doing.

By mid-January, 29 percent of respondents were no longer following their resolutions. By February, it was 36 percent. And by June, over half had given up.

MARTIN: Oh, man.

CHALABI: I know. And maybe those numbers are a bit of an underestimate because if I had a researcher calling me every few weeks to see how I was doing, I think I'd make an extra effort with my New Year's resolution.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That's true, right. So it sounds like people get off track pretty quickly. Does that mean if you give up on your resolutions for one year, does that make you less likely to make them again the following year?

CHALABI: It doesn't look like it. People seem completely undeterred. That survey I mentioned about New Year's resolutions has actually been conducted since 1995. Every year, about two in five people say they failed in their previous resolution and about two in five say they will be making a resolution for the year ahead. Of course, they might not be the same two people but it still seems remarkably consistent. And actually, there's another source of evidence that we don't give up - our Internet search history.

MARTIN: What do you mean?

CHALABI: So using Google trends, I looked at how people have searched for the words gym and diet over the past ten years. And sure enough, every January 1, people start Googling those words in huge numbers.

MARTIN: What? What do you mean? I never do that. I don't know what you're talking about.

CHALABI: By February, the number of people looking for diets and gyms trails off. And by December, it's about a third lower. And then you see it pick up all over again the next January.

MARTIN: Funny how that works. So a diet and exercise. What other kind of resolutions do people make typically?

CHALABI: It's a pretty diverse wish list. So about four percent of interviewed people said they wanted to go back to school in 2015. Another four percent said they wanted to be closer to God. And nine percent said they wanted to be a better person. But again, the most popular New Year's resolutions by far were to lose weight and exercise more. About a quarter of people chose one of those.

MARTIN: See, I have to say, planning to be a better person - that one you're asking for failure. I think the key is to make them specific so they're achievable. That's just my two cents. I mean, there is value in just trying, though, right. I mean, at least naming change that you want to see in your life?

CHALABI: I'd agree with that. It all depends on what you want from these resolutions, right. So I mean, I've been using the word failure here but a lack of success isn't necessarily failure. I have this friend who each January 1 quits smoking. Even if she's frustrated when she starts up again each February, she always says to me that those four weeks without cigarettes are better than none. So if you want to change your life and change it for good, then my advice would be if at first you don't succeed, don't try and try again each January. Just keep trying whenever you can.

MARTIN: Good advice. I like it. OK, so a moment of truth. Do you do this? Do you make resolutions, Mona?

CHALABI: Um, yeah. I actually told myself that I'd try to start telling more positive stories with data. And it looks like I failed in a pretty ironic way this year. But I'll try again. I'll try again for the next number of the week, I promise.

MARTIN: It only took you, like, seven days to break that resolution.

CHALABI: Oh, what can you do?

MARTIN: Mona Chalabi of fivethirtyeight.com. Thanks so much, Mona.

CHALABI: Thanks, Rachel.

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