Research has shown that about half of all adults make New Year’s resolutions. However, fewer than 10% manage to keep them for more than a few months. Resolutions usually come in the form of lifestyle changes and changing behaviour that has become routine and habitual (even if they are not problematic), which can be hard to do. The most common resolutions are: losing weight, doing more exercise, quitting smoking and saving money.
The main reason that people don’t stick to their resolutions is that they set too many or they’re unrealistic to achieve. They may also be victims of “false hope syndrome”. False hope syndrome is characterised by a person’s unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease and consequences of changing their behaviour.
So, what’s the key to actually following through on a resolution?
Research shows that it’s important that people feel like every little bit of self-improvement counts. Nobody can train for a marathon in a day, nor can they pay off their student loans with a single check; but it’s important to remember that opting for the stairs over the elevator, or choosing to cook instead of eat at a restaurant, is a step toward that ultimate goal. Here are some tips to help you follow your resolutions:
Be realistic. You need to begin by making resolutions that you can keep and that are practical. Also, breaking up the longer-term goal into more manageable short-term goals can be beneficial and more rewarding.
Do one thing at a time. One of the easiest routes to failure is to have too many resolutions. If you want to be fitter and healthier, do just one thing at a time. Don’t do them all at once, just choose one and do your best to stick to it. Once you have got one thing under your control, you can begin a second resolution.
Be SMART. Goals should be SMART, that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Resolutions shouldn’t be any different. Cutting down alcohol drinking is an admirable goal, but it’s not SMART. Drinking no more than two units of alcohol every other day for one month is a SMART resolution.
Tell someone your resolution. Letting family and friends know that you have a New Year’s resolution that you really want to keep will act as both a safety barrier and a face-saver. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support from those around you.
Don’t Limit Yourself
Changing your behaviour, or some aspect of it, doesn’t have to be restricted to the start of the New Year. It can be anytime.
Accept lapses as part of the process. It’s inevitable that when trying to give up something, there will be lapses. You shouldn’t feel guilty about giving in to your cravings but accept that it is part of the learning process. These may be clichés but we learn by our mistakes and every day is a new day – and you can start each day afresh.
If you think this all sounds like too much hard work and that it’s not worth making resolutions to begin with, bear in mind that people who make New Year’s resolutions are ten times more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t.
Norcross, John & Mrykalo, Marci & Blagys, Matthew. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of clinical psychology. 58. 397-405. 10.1002/jclp.1151.
Woolley, K. & Fishbach, A. (2018). It’s About Time: Earlier Rewards Increase Intrinsic Motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114, 877-890
Vilhelmiina Välimäki is a Clinical Psychologist at Willingness Clinic. She works both with children and adults. You can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org or 9944 9910