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New Year, New You? The Psychology Behind New Year’s Resolutions, and How to Keep Them

Welcome to 2023! When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Day, people rang in new year in different ways - many celebrated with a cheers, many had tears for the year gone by, some sang and some may have already been asleep. What a lot people have in common at this time, however, is the annual setting of New Year’s Resolutions. Exercise more, eat less sugar, travel more, read more, spend less time online.... the list is endless! There is a sense of hope and optimism in the air.

In spite of all the best intentions, however, research has shown that most won’t see theirs through to the end. The good news? There are plenty of strategies you can implement that’ll help you persevere, which is important, because resolutions and goals go hand in hand, and both provide us with a vision and a direction to who we want to be. It may feel like a mountain of a task, but if we can break it down to one step at a time, our goals are more achievable.

So whether you’re looking to create a healthier mind-body lifestyle, take up a new hobby, spend more time with family, or lower your carbon footprint, read on to explore the psychology behind New Year’s resolutions and tips to help keep yours going all year long.

Why do we make New Year’s resolutions?

Resolutions aren’t just a modern day invention, they date back far in history. In ancient times, Romans made resolutions of good conduct to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. Similarly, The Babylonians (from modern day Iraq) began each year by pledging to pay debts and return borrowed items. Medieval knights, during their final Christmas feast, reaffirmed their commitment to chivalry.

So, it is human nature to want to start over on a clean slate, and what better time to kick off than at the beginning of the New Year —a time which symbolises a new chapter in life allowing us to commit or recommit to goals.

Where does the modern day trend of resolutions come from? There are perceived standards that we have been exposed to since birth that have been shaped by parents and friends, then social media influencers, and advertisers. Some standards are beneficial, such as avoiding excessive amounts of food, and some are unhealthy (physically and psychologically). Resolutions are made when there is a gap between the what is (past to present) and what we want to be (future).

New Year’s Day offers the opportunity to hit the “reset button” and set personal standards for the year ahead.

Why do most New Year’s resolutions fail?

Most resolutions are about changing habits or in other words, ingrained patterns of behaviour. If you’ve ever attempted to create or quit a habit, then you know just how tempting it can be to slip up or quit altogether, especially when you have had a slip up, or experiencing a tough day.

“Most people don’t prepare for riding out the discomfort of changing a habit. Many also don’t realise that while the initial behaviour change can bring a great deal of discomfort, this will eventually fade. But when hunger pangs or cigarette cravings, or the desire to sit on the couch instead of go for a walk are intense, we tend to assume that it will feel that way forever—when actually, it won’t.

So, How to keep up with your New Year’s resolutions?

The thought of keeping up with a New Year’s resolution all year can feel daunting, but luckily, there are plenty of strategies to help you persevere. You’d be surprised how far perseverance, organisation, and social support will get you! Below are tips to make your resolutions stick.

1. Identify your values and be sure that they’re true to you. Make sure your goals are in line with your values, what is truly important to you. Let’s say your goal is to lose 10kg, and your reason is so you can show off your new body to friends and family, making others envious of the “new you”. This is an example external motivation, and it is less likely to stick. On the other hand, if your reason to lose 10kg is to feel more energetic or to reduce your health risks, that is an internally motivated goal. If your goal is internal then it’s true to you and you’re more likely to stick with it.

2. Make a game plan and identify value-guided goals. Make goals that are achievable in the short term, as well as longer term “umbrella goals”. So, set something attainable in the next day, short-term goals (something attainable in a few days or weeks), medium-term goals (attainable over a few weeks and months), and long-term goals (attainable over a few months to a year). Breaking down big goals into smaller pieces is beneficial because you’ll see success sooner and not feel overwhelmed. Write down your goals, with time specific and realistic dates for achieving.

3. Set yourself up for success by creating an environment to support your resolution. One way to do this is by establishing routines, writing them down, and putting them somewhere you’ll see every day, which could give you a sense of obligation to carry on. Another way is to encourage those close to you to get involved, perhaps you could encourage your spouse to take that evening walk with you, or get a friend on board for a summer holiday. By bringing others in to our goal setting, we are more likely to achieve.

4. Track your progress. Tracking your progress should be based on something you can observe like the number of times you do something or how long you do something. This way you feel your accomplishments often and have the motivation to continue. Also, it’s vital to always celebrate and reward yourself when reaching a goal!

5. 5. Be gracious and kind to yourself throughout your journey. Language and the way you talk to yourself is powerful. There will be days where you perform better than others and it’s okay to have days where you don’t perform well at all—you’re human. However, if we continue to fall short of our goals, we may need to think about whether the value we chose is actually a value of ours, if the goal we chose is appropriate, if we need to change things in our environment, or if the rewards we give ourselves are actually rewarding.

Remember, it is normal to slip up along the way, have days where you don’t feel like anything is going right, and motivation is low. This is part of being human, it is impossible for us to be achieving goals at all times. But also keep in mind a slip in behaviour does not have to be a slide. If you slip up, if it is for a day, a week, or a month, acknowledge this to yourself, noticing reasons that led to the slip, and pick back up where you left off.

If you would like to explore your values and goals in a safe, therapeutic environment, or if working on your Mental Health is part of your New Year’s Resolution, please get in touch via my contact details.

Wishing you well for the year ahead!


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