There are an estimated one billion smokers worldwide, and kicking the habit is almost always in the top 10 of New Year’s resolutions. It’s also the most difficult resolution to keep.
Three in five people in the United Kingdom resolved to quit smoking, but started again by the end of January, according to data released by the Royal Society of Public Health in the UK. Duncan Stephenson, Director of External Affairs at the Royal Society of Public Health, said quitting takes huge amounts of willpower, due to smoking being a chemical addiction, and that people shouldn’t give up after the first slip-up.
“Rather than setting unrealistic goals and making huge changes to lifestyle, we suggest people make small changes using a step-wise approach,” he said. “During the new year, lots of people want to reinvent themselves…but people shouldn’t set themselves up to fail.”
Stephenson compared smoking cessation to going on a diet, where people set unrealistic expectations by making dramatic changes that are often short-lived. The RSPH survey ranked dieting as second from last in resolution success, with 65 percent of people lasting one month and only 16 percent making it to the year’s end.
The survey’s findings are most likely reflected in other countries, including the United States, Stephenson said. The Marist Institute of Public Opinion’s 2017 resolution poll of more than 400 people in the US found smoking to be the seventh most popular resolution.
The most successful resolutions in 2016 were among individuals who chose to improve relationships with friends and family, followed by finding a healthier work-life balance. More than 80 percent of those who tried to improve their relationships reported success by the end of January and 58 percent followed through to the end of the year.
People seeking a better work-life balance reported success at keeping the resolution for one month at 75 percent, and 43 percent felt the same by the end of the year. John Norcross, professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton, said the easiest resolutions are the most attainable.
“The most difficult resolutions to keep were the consumptive, addictive behaviors, such as smoking and dieting,” he said. “It’s not so much the topic, it’s how realistic the goal is.”
Learning From Mistakes Is Necessary
Norcross used the analogy of learning a new sport or skill when approaching a resolution. He said a person is most likely going to make a mistake, but that they should learn from the slip-ups.
“Let’s say you wanted to learn tennis. People say they would have to take lessons, it would take some time, and they are likely to make mistakes, and that’s right,” he said, adding that successful people know that a slip is not a fall and that relapses are common and expected. “It’s like someone missing a shot in tennis and not playing again. It’s really quite silly when you think about it.”
Both Norcross and Stephenson stressed that willpower is not enough, regardless of how many times someone hears otherwise.
“In our studies, people who primarily relied on willpower failed at three times the rate of everyone else,” Norcross said. “It starts with getting prepared, rewarding yourself, developing a flourishing environment that supports you and creating the behavior.”