The prospect of a new calendar year prompts many of us to think about changes we want to make in our lives in the form of New Year’s resolutions. Or as is often the case, re-making resolutions from past years. New Year’s resolutions often get a bad reputation, mainly because many of us make them, but often we fail to follow through with them.
However, New Year’s resolutions, at their core, are no different from any other behavior change. Which is to say, it’s often quite difficult. However, this means that we can apply the same strategies to habit change throughout the year.
An important consideration when making a resolution is our why, our motivation for this change. If we’re making this change because of pressure from others, or because we feel badly about ourselves, our chances for success are lower than if we are making the change for ourselves. If we can come to the mindset that this resolution is because it’s something we truly want, and something that we’re doing for ourselves, our chances of success are much higher.
Of almost equal importance, however, are the environment and realities of the situation. Specific, measurable goals are much easier to track and feel progress toward than general goals. Getting in better shape (as a common example) is great to work toward, but perhaps better goals are reducing body fat percentage, or reducing overall weight.
Specific steps toward those goals are also necessary to think about. Taking our example of losing weight, this might mean sticking to a weekly calorie deficit or working out four times per week. And importantly, we must track our progress! But we also need to adjust our environment for these goals. Cutting calories is going to be all the more challenging if we keep unhealthy snacks around. And working out four times per week is going to be a drag if we don’t schedule the time for it.
All resolutions are going to come with setbacks, but these are part of the process. Instead of deciding that missing our goal one day or one week means that we’ve failed and that we are going to give up, we need to look at what caused that failure and make adjustments. Resolutions are a learning process, and we’ve got to allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes.
In sum, the best New Year’s resolutions are those we are making for ourselves, those we’ve thought about and planned for the concrete realities of, and those that we adjust and learn from as we go.
- The Psychology of Resolutions at YouTube
- The Definitive Guide to Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions at Zen Habits
- Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagy, M. D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of new year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397–405. doi:10.1002/jclp.1151
- Koestner, R. (2008). Reaching One’s Personal Goals: A Motivational Perspective Focused on Autonomy. Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 60–67. doi:10.1037/0708-5518.104.22.168