Toward a Culture of Assessment for New Year’s Resolutions

This is the time of year when one traditionally makes “New Year’s Resolutions,” setting goals for improvement in one’s behavior. Yet it’s well-known that the system of New Year’s Resolutions has been unsuccessful in actually achieving the goals that it has set, and it is here that I think we could learn a great deal from recent advances in educational assessment.

One thing that is striking from an assessment standpoint is the vagueness of most resolutions. Let’s say I resolve to go to the gym more this year. Do I have reliable figures for how often I have gone years prior, as a baseline? How much “more” am I looking for here? Do I have a mechanism in place to keep track of how often I’m going?

One might also note that the stated goal is surely not the intended goal. Simply stopping into the gym to use the vending machine would presumably not “count” toward fulfilling the stated goal. This is where we need to lay out some resolution objectives. Do I want to increase my stamina? Do I want to look better naked? Do I just want to feel generally better? Only once we’ve clarified those goals can we begin to consider how we might measure our progress toward them.

For the gym, quantitative measures such as heart rates, “reps,” weights used, distances run, etc., are readily available — and outcomes, such as body mass index, cholesterol levels, etc., are easily measurable as well. For subjective measures, usually expressed in vague terms like “I feel so much better since I started going to the gym!,” it is a simple matter to develop a quantitative assessment tool. For instance: Do I feel much less sexy (1), somewhat less sexy (2), equally sexy (3), more sexy (4), or much more sexy (5)?

Such an approach would give us much greater clarity as to whether we’re meeting our resolutions and to what degree. And it provides a mechanism for accountability. Instead of making some vague resolution, doomed to failure, every year, we can look back over the data and see how close we came. Over the course of several years, this will provide us grounds to assess how competent we are in proposing and fulfilling New Year’s Resolutions — and to compare performance across resolvers. If a clear pattern of underperformance emerges for any given resolver, then it’s probably time for someone else to be put in charge of thinking of ways for that person to improve their life over the course of the calendar year.

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6 Responses to “Toward a Culture of Assessment for New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. new year’s resolutions: why you will fail - hiddenbehindnothing Says:

    […] Toward a Culture of Assessment for New Year’s Resolutions – Adam Kotsko on An und für sich […]

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The first incoming link of the year is particularly auspicious, I think.

  3. Freeman and Free Men « deathandvulgarity Says:

    […] Year’s Eve hangovers and already regretting paltry resolutions that you suspect will remain unfulfilled, January 1, 1863 may be enough of a truly new year to cure what ails you. I, Abraham Lincoln, […]

  4. Guido Nius Says:

    Sounds awfully similar to a pay-for-performance discourse based on Stretched, Measurable, Actionable and Realistic Targets. I never thought extrinsic motivation was the smart approach. Better to just forget about resolving stuff.

  5. Matt in Toledo Says:

    I made an official list of New Year’s Resolutions three years ago with clearly delineated levels of success. For example, I resolved to run in an organized race. Admittedly, registering for a 5K would’ve done the trick but I established a higher goals of doing a 10K and maybe even a half marathon.

    I liked the layout, but the problem is I’m still working through that now three year old list of resolutions. The good news is I’m making some very real progress toward completing more of the items, and I feel confident that my review committee will grant me another year’s extension. Crossing my fingers that with the head way I expect to make this year, they’ll even take me off probation and mark me as having made satisfactory progress.


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