We ran a survey asking our visitors how well they do when it comes to setting and meeting their goals. What better time to do this than when everyone's making (or breaking!) New Year's resolutions?
Gabby, 14, made a resolution to change "everything" this year, asking "Why live if you don't move forward?"
Like Gabby, lots of people set goals and make changes. It's all part of the process of self-discovery. But deciding on a goal or something that needs changing is the easy part. The hard part is all the work that goes into getting there.
We heard from 900 people ages 13-18. More than three quarters (77%) made New Year's resolutions on everything from losing weight to learning the banjo. And almost all of them say they are doing really well at sticking to their goals.
Here's more on what our survey revealed.
Most Common Goals
We gave our survey-takers examples of some common types of resolutions and asked if their resolutions fit into these categories.
Here's how the goals we asked about ranked in popularity:
- Lose weight.
- Do something for personal development (e.g., learn a new skill or hobby, overcome shyness, be nicer to others).
- Do better in school.
- Get more exercise.
- Kick a bad habit (e.g., smoking or cutting).
Making It Happen . . .
To reach a goal, it helps to have a plan with specific steps. It also helps to tell your goal to someone you trust — supportive friends and family come in very handy for those times when your willpower's doing a couch potato act.
But do people really make plans and ask for support? Or do they just wing it? Our survey says it's a bit of both: 55% of our survey-takers said they made specific plans, but 45% said they just let things happen. And while 49% shared their resolution with someone else, 51% preferred to keep it private.
The people who do plan and share their goals gave us lots of tips on making it work. For example:
Kyla, 13, says, "I make plans about eating and exercising, and I plan what I am going to do when I reach my desired weight. I encourage myself every day."
Anne, 16, says, "I look at a sheet of paper where I have written down all of my dreams."
Sarah, 14, says, "I make a list because I like to tick things off when I get them done, and I feel guilty when I'm not able to tick them off, so it keeps me on track."
Liliana, 15, says, "I talk to my family about it — it really works!"
Jasmine, 17, says, "I go to the gym with my sister."
Kaylee, 14, says she gets support from "talking to my boyfriend and him telling me that he is really proud of me."
The people who love you can help you stick with a goal or make a change. But what about the people who just pretend to care? Ondrea, 13, says, "Friends can also be a bad influence." She told us she needs to stay away from the people she hung out with last year if she's going to keep her resolution.
. . . or Not
It can be tough to stick with a goal for a long time, especially when you don't have the right support. Of the people in our survey who gave up on their resolutions, most (39%) said it was because they couldn't get motivated to do it. Motivation is complicated, but identifying the reasons you want to make the change is one necessary part of getting motivated. Your reasons for making the change need to be at least as strong as the effort you’ll need to put in.
The fact that so many people give up on resolutions is one reason why 23% of our survey-takers said they don't make any resolutions at all. "I wouldn't be able to keep the resolution, I never do," says Maritza, 18.
Although some people do give up, our survey shows that most of you definitely are not quitters. An impressive 92% of our survey-takers are still on target to meet their goals.
What's even more impressive is that more than a third of them say they slipped up but then got back on track again. That's hard to do. When people stray from their goals, it's tempting to give up altogether. But slip-ups are actually part of the learning process. Congratulations to everyone who recognized this and recommitted to their resolution!
Our respondents are optimistic about reaching their goals — and that optimism may help keep them on track. Genevieve, 13, told us, "I want more than anything in the world to be on Broadway or the West End." This girl isn't just dreaming, though. She's enrolled in stage school and is taking classes. "I love to sing, dance, and act and you know what? I'm going to do it!" Genevieve says. "Watch this space!"
Thinking positively helps people achieve goals. And Genevieve's pretty typical of our respondents:
- Half of respondents said they were "very confident" that they'd reach their goals.
- 43% reported that they were "somewhat confident" they'd reach their goals.
- Only 7% of our survey-takers said they didn't think they'd make it.
Optimism brings success. And success in turn can help people stay motivated to keep going. Tiffany, 17, made a resolution to get more exercise because she was feeling out of shape. She told us, "After 1 week of staying on track, I realized I felt energized, slept better, and my confidence went up." Tiffany is very confident that she will continue exercising.
Angie, 13, says, "My friends help me keep my mind off junk foods. Since they know I'm not eating them anymore they watch what I eat. But, honestly, I don't crave junk food anymore."
Recognizing and enjoying small successes is one motivator for people who are trying to stick with a resolution.
Here are some of the other things that keep our readers going:
A little competitive spirit works for Yusra, 13, who told us, "I play soccer a lot with my friends and that motivates me, especially when I'm losing. Also, I play with my dad and his friends and they are really big and strong so that also drives me to do better when I play with them."
Nick, 14, is already good at football. He could stop there, but he wants to push himself to get even better. To improve his skills he says, "I watch my old tapes every day."
Brigid, 15, made a resolution to get into her school's spring musical. "Since this is my first year in high school, it was harder to get in," she said. "I practiced my audition piece a lot and did my best at the tryouts." Brigid's work paid off, and she was able to tell us, "I made it!"
Amanda, 15, told us, "When I saw my last grade report it had a C on it. It made me upset because I didn't try as hard as I could have. To stay motivated and inspired I just keep looking back on that grade report and say to myself, 'I know I can do better than that.' "
Taking inspiration from someone or something else also helps many of you. Lots of readers talked about looking up to someone they knew who had accomplished a goal. One 13-year-old girl who wants to lose weight to manage her diabetes told us, "I picture my aunt because she had diabetes and did it, so I can do it too."
Another 13-year-old who is trying to overcome a cutting problem told us, "Cutting is a bad habit that is hard to break. I try to think about what my school guidance counselor told me and how much my teachers and counselor care."
When Times Are Tough
A number of you made resolutions to help overcome serious difficulties. Some of the people who took our survey said they had been hospitalized for depression, eating disorders, and even attempted suicide. One 14-year-old told us that she is motivated to work through her problems because "I don't want to end up back in the hospital or dead."
If things are really tough, making a resolution to change often isn't enough. It can be hard to stay motivated when you're doing it alone. People with serious problems need help from friends and family. Fortunately, lots of you get it.
Dana and Tina (not their real names) are two 14-year-old friends who wrote to share their experience. Dana told us her resolution is to "keep helping my friend [Tina] in rehab for an eating disorder and to get her out and keep her healthy when she is ready."
Tina told us how it happened. "I had a really bad smoking and drinking habit, and I suffer from an eating disorder. I decided I wanted to become healthy, but it was hard so I stopped trying and kept starving myself and smoking and drinking. But it was my best friend who caught me forcing myself to throw up."
"I caught her outside puking purposely," Dana told us. "I convinced her life was ticking away like a timer, and she said she needed help. So I told her parents and now instead of shopping I spend money going to see her [in rehab]. I think [she] appreciates it."
"She is my life saver," says Tina. "Thanks to her I have already achieved one step in my goal. I admitted I have a problem and got help."
If you're struggling with some heavy problems, admitting them and reaching out to a friend for help is the first step to recovery. Sometimes friends even see problems before the person is ready to recognize them. If you're feeling too depressed or down on yourself that you can't even get motivated to change, talk to someone. And listen when a friend like Dana gets up the nerve to talk to you about your troubles.
Focus on Accomplishments, Not Failures
If you've made a resolution that's a struggle to keep, it can help to focus on the little things that you achieve, rather than thinking about what you've done wrong or when you've slipped up.
Tell yourself how much better you feel. Like Ariel, 14, who says, "I think of how much healthier I'm eating and how eating an apple instead of a piece of cake makes you feel better." Or Alexis, 13, who says, "When I cut down 'media' time and go for a run, the gym, or play outside, I feel refreshed, and healthy."
Give yourself rewards, like Anna, 13, who stays motivated to get schoolwork and studying done because "afterwards I can use the Internet and watch TV."
Most of all, take it easy on yourself. "Just take it one day at a time, then a week, then a month — and then it will be a year!" says Katherine, 13.
Change Comes More Than Once a Year
A new year isn't the only time to make a change for the better. In fact, quite a few people told us they make resolutions anytime they feel like it.
Tanya, 15, says, "I believe that people can make a resolution and change their life any day of the year if they want, it doesn't have to be on New Year's."
Jamie, 16, says, "I'm continually making goals. When I need to make a change, I do it — I won't wait for a new year to make my life different."
Karla, 14, likes to make resolutions on her birthday, which comes in February. "It's really a new year when you turn a new age" and it's more personal because "it's not when everybody else is making resolutions, like on New Year's."
Mary Kate, 13, says, "It feels more like a new year in September when I start a new school year and everything is different."
So if you think you'd like to make a change, why not make a prom season, summer vacation, back-to-school, or other resolution?
And if you're happy with how things are at the moment and can't think of anything you want to work on, celebrate yourself! Like Arielle, 13, who told us, "I didn't make a New Year's resolution because I am happy how my life is set and I don't think I need to change anything."
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD