New Year's Resolutions That Survive the Test of Time

Ring in a healthier new you; how to make realistic goals that you can reach.

ByABC News
December 22, 2009, 6:03 PM

Dec. 28, 2009— -- With 2010 days away, the time for bizarre resolutions and schemes for self-improvement is here.

But even the most well-intended resolutions tend to fall to pieces soon after the ball drops.

Niall O'Dowd of New York City resolved to lose 30 pounds one year but fell off the exercise bike the first day in and fractured his leg. "No more weight loss," O'Dowd told "Try gaining another 15 [pounds]."

About 40 percent to 45 percent of Americans make resolutions each New Year's, says John Norcross, distinguished professor of clinical psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

But, according to his research, less than half of the pledges pan out.

So what is it about the first of January that makes us strive to reinvent ourselves, year after year?

The tradition began with ancient Romans, says Norcross, who has studied behavioral change at New Year's for 30 years. They would "make promises of good conduct to Janus, the two-faced deity who looked both backward and forward" and presided over beginnings and endings.

Today, resolutions still include promises of good behavior, he notes, with pledges to eat healthier, exercise more and spend less money topping the charts again and again.

Whether the yearly resolutions actually result in a better you is a question for experts on behavioral change, motivation and relationship growth.

Why Wait for Auld Lang Syne?

"It's always a good time to start" changing for the better, says Gretchen Rubin, blogger and author of "The Happiness Project," pointing out that people enjoy the enhanced feeling of a fresh start that comes with starting a new year.

Norcross says, "Virtually all civilizations and religions have opportunities to begin anew, this happens to be [America's]. Here's a secular chance for an entire do-over."

The built-in social support of the practice is also important, he notes, considering people around you are making similar resolutions.