The smoke from the New Year’s fireworks has cleared, and everyone is back to work and school. The holidays are over. But what lingers in the air are our New Year’s resolutions. I made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. As I sit down at my favorite coffee shop to draft this article I am faced with a choice – to virtuously order the fruit cup or slouch toward my much-beloved morning ritual of a blueberry muffin?
According to market strategy firm Branded, at least one in four of us report making a New Year’s resolution. Probably even more of us make quiet promises to ourselves at year’s end. Our tendency to make resolutions appears to be affected by age. A full one-third of Millennials will make at least one resolution. Fewer Gen X’ers will choose to. Even fewer Boomers, only 18 percent, plan to do something different in 2019. I am not sure if the Boomers have given up on making resolutions entirely as much as we have cultivated affection for our bad habits (e.g., my blueberry muffin) over many decades.
The survey also reveals that younger men are more likely than younger women to make a New Year’s resolution. But in older age, it appears that women are more willing to make continuous improvements. Perhaps older men should take note, since they are facing record-high gray divorce rates in older age, most often initiated by their wives.
So what are the promises we are making to ourselves? Inc. Magazine conducted a survey of Americans asking what they resolved to do in the new year. Here are the top ten resolutions:
- Diet or eat healthier
- Exercise more
- Lose weight
- Save more and spend less
- Learn a new skill or hobby
- Quit smoking
- Read more
- Find another job
- Drink less alcohol
- Spend more time with family and friends
Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “Cheers to the new year and another chance for us to get it right.”Judging from this list, many of us not only want to get it right, but we know what behaviors need improvement. Despite endless reports (often sounding more like lectures) that many of us don’t understand that we need to save more, lose weight, exercise, and quit a vice or two, this list suggests that we already know our foibles.
Yet most of us will give up on our New Year’s promises. In fact, one report indicates that many of us will give up less than two weeks after our New Year’s toast. A survey on the international social network Strava shows that by January 12, most of us give up and go back to our last year’s self. Note, as of this writing, today is January 12.
Sustained behavioral change is the Holy Grail for self-improvement. Clearly, many of us know what to do and even desire to make a change. There are many theories as to why most of us will not keep our promises, e.g., our goals are overly ambitious, we lack a clear plan, or we need regular reinforcement from peers. These are certainly all contributors, but compounding the challenge to keep our resolutions is the how. How do we achieve our goals?
Market innovations that leverage these behavioral science insights are emerging to help with sustained behavioral change. John Hancock, for example, introduced Vitality, a program that is part of Hancock’s life insurance offering. Rather than simply giving guidance on living longer and better, the Vitality program offers a platform of incentives and branded services to customers who commit to healthy choices. Users who commit to exercising, for example, not only earn a discount on their life insurance but can also earn hotel discounts, Amazon Prime membership benefits and more rewards that they can enjoy today with their family.
Tivity Health, operator of the national SilverSneakers fitness program for Medicare Advantage members, recently acquired Nutrisystem. Nutrisystem offers weight management programs through its Nutrisystem and South Beach Diet products. These diet plans deliver all three daily meals directly to the customer’s door, creating a “closed system,” as it were, in which the dieter’s food choices are prescribed for them in advance. Tivity Health’s acquisition of Nutrisystem promises to make it easier to get and stay fit with an integrated “Calories In + Calories Out” solution that supports overall wellness and a more effective approach to weight management and overall wellbeing.
Saving more money, particularly for retirement, is a common New Year’s goal. But Bankrate reports that even those who do save “haven’t a clue” how much money they will need in retirement. And, for that matter, how they will spend the money in their later years. Raymond James Wealth Management launched a program to help their clients not only save money for retirement but to understand specifically how the money will be used as part of living longer, better. Financial advisors have the capacity to connect clients with vetted third-party service providers that support a broad range of services people will need in older age, e.g., healthcare, caregiving and more, thereby making saving for retirement a concrete purchase rather than a call to save for an ambiguous future decades away.
Perhaps these and similar approaches can help us keep our New Year’s promises to ourselves far longer than a meager two weeks. In the meantime, a blueberry muffin is calling me from across the counter…perhaps Oprah is right, there is always next year to get it right.