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We Americans are a pessimistic lot. Despite an obsession with self-improvement, which includes everything from fixing our relationships, body image or personal finances, Americans seem reluctant to push themselves to achieve personal goals. Evidence? New Year's resolutions are passé for 2004. Sixty percent of Americans don't intend to make a New Year's resolution for 2004, according to a nationally representative online survey conducted exclusively for American Demographics by Washington, D.C.-based market research firm Ipsos-Public Affairs.

It appears people are loath to make vows they doubt they will be able to achieve. Only slightly more than one-third of respondents (37 percent) say they plan to do so. Females are somewhat more likely than males to lock in to promises for the new year (39 percent compared with 35 percent), reveals our online poll of 1,001 consumers conducted between October 21 and 23, 2003. Also, it seems young people are more likely than older ones to hazard making a resolution: Half of consumers ages 18 to 34 expect to make a New Year's resolution for 2004. That level of conviction eclipses the 38 percent among 35- to 54-year-olds who say they'll commit, and vastly overshadows the 23 percent of those 55 and older who plan to observe the tradition.

Resolutions most frequently mentioned among those surveyed suggest that Americans tend toward self-denial or pushing limits. “Exercising more� was 2004's leading resolution among respondents: 16 percent of those who'll make a resolution say they'll work out more next year. Fifteen percent listed spending more time with family as their No. 1 resolution, while another 15 percent vow they'll pay off debt and 9 percent plan to go on a diet. Epicurean promises like relaxing more or spending more time on a hobby arose as resolves among only 6 percent each. And while 7 percent intend to work more, a mere 1 percent hope to sleep more in the new year. Perhaps our Puritan roots are showing.

Among consumers who say they'll commit to a resolution, those who are battling the flab of middle age and beyond are more likely to plan to pump iron or go on a diet. More than one-third (36 percent) of resolution makers ages 55 and over vow to exercise more, while only 10 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds and 13 percent of Boomers who fall in the 35- to 54-age-range, plan to make that a priority. Along similar lines, 15 percent of resolution makers ages 55 and over plan to diet, while only 6 percent of adults 18 to 34 and 9 percent of those 35 to 54 intend to cut calories.

As for the majority of consumers who don't plan to make resolutions for the new year, our past history may shed some light on why they are so reluctant to make such a commitment. Unfortunately, although Americans may have every intention of sticking to a New Year's resolution, in more cases than not, they fail to achieve their goal. Our findings show that over half of respondents (55 percent) say they have ever made a New Year's resolution, and then were unable to fulfill it. Women admit to a greater tendency to fall short of their objective: 6 in 10 (62 percent) say they've failed to follow through on their resolutions. Just under half of men (49 percent) fess up to failure.

Excuses for failing to living up to those resolutions abound. People say a lack of willpower is the chief cause for the gap between intention and action. Over half of those whose past New Year's resolutions have failed (57 percent) say deficient willpower was a major obstacle. Others have the will, but lose their way. Some 17 percent of the same group say they forgot about the resolution; men are more likely to be among the forgetful.

Where time and money are concerned, slightly more people (13 percent) say time, rather than a shortage of money (9 percent) presented an obstacle. Those of us who are 35 or older are far more likely to blame a lack of willpower, while the young, ages 18 to 34, when compared with those ages 35 and over, are more likely to say they forgot about the resolution. Perhaps the poet Robert Burns put it best when he observed that the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.

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