If you’ve ever made New Year’s resolutions, you probably know how difficult it is to move from setting plans on paper to putting them into action. Usually, the new year comes, but your desire to exercise, start a big project, or finally learn a foreign language dwindles. To avoid this, it is important to understand the mechanism of New Year’s resolutions, as well as find the right approach to their realization. Our article will help you with this, so keep reading!
Why do people make New Year’s resolutions?
We can start changing our lives for the better any day, without waiting for a special date. So why has New Year become a starting point for realizing important goals and desires? Many people associate this symbolic day with new beginnings, as it marks a transition from the old to the new self. Then, add the euphoria of the holidays to this, which inspires people to dream and make ambitious plans for the future. Plans that include being healthier, more persistent, more successful, and generally happier.
New Year’s resolutions become the answer to achieving a happier life. Everything seems to be very simple: if you want to feel better, you can start exercising and switch to healthy food. If you want to find a more promising job, you can sign up for courses and learn some new skills. But often, enthusiasm and determination for New Year’s resolutions significantly decrease with the end of the holidays, and people make excuses for putting off their plans. As a result, they feel guilty and dissatisfied with themselves, thinking that the year has started badly. So, instead of an incentive, New Year’s resolutions turn out to be a demotivating factor. To understand this in more detail, let’s look at the psychological aspect of resolutions.
Why do New Year’s resolutions fail?
According to a dedicated survey by Forbes, 80% of respondents are confident in their ability to stick to their vows, and only 6% lack this confidence. The study also shows that, on average, New Year’s resolutions last less than 4 months, and then most people give up on them. Only 1% of respondents keep their promises all year long. So why do people stop on the way to their goals and dreams?
The reason is simple: New Year’s resolutions contradict established routines. For example, if you’re used to sleeping until 9 a.m., it won’t be easy to train yourself to wake up earlier to go jogging or do yoga. Old habits are hard to break because they are constantly reinforced by repetition and become some sort of a program. Plus, they offer an immediate benefit that makes us feel better in the short term. You must admit that lolling in bed in the morning is much more enjoyable than getting up early and doing exhausting workouts.
Of course, keeping your promises also provides satisfaction, but the effect is usually delayed. For our brain, the benefits are not so obvious, because it prefers instant rewards. That’s why, in the competition between long-term benefit and short-term comfort, the latter often wins. People tend to underestimate how difficult it is to change habits, which leads to unrealistic expectations. However, those who are realistic in assessing their strengths and are willing to sacrifice temporary pleasures for desired changes are very likely to succeed.
3 main reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail
Usually, problems with sticking to New Year’s resolutions have nothing to do with laziness or lack of discipline. Sometimes, people fail even if they are eager to achieve their goals and take practical steps. The problem is that their very approach to setting resolutions may be wrong. Let’s look at the most common mistakes.
1. Goals that are too big.
When you are setting resolutions for the whole year, they usually sound ambitious like “learning French from scratch” or “making a movie.” Of course, under certain conditions, there is nothing unrealistic about it. But, if you are just a beginner, such a goal may be too ambitious; trying to achieve it will take all your energy and eventually fail.
2. False desires.
New Year’s resolutions do not always reflect honest desires. For example, people may feel social pressure to lose weight and think that they must slim down. But if they hate workouts, a resolution to go to the gym or engage in any other type of physical activity is doomed, as it will bring only negative emotions.
3. Not being ready for change.
Great emotional uplift of the holiday season seems to be the perfect incentive to fulfill promises, but we may simply not be ready for change. To understand the stages that need to be passed, let’s refer to The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change) introduced by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in the late 1970s. According to this model, changes occur gradually, and people often resist them in the early stages.
Stage 1. Precontemplation. A person sees no need to change anything.
Stage 2. Contemplation. The person starts to have thoughts about possible changes.
Stage 3. Preparation. The person creates an action plan for change.
Stage 4. Action. The person makes specific actions to achieve goals.
Stage 5. Maintenance. The person determines ways to stick with changes.
Those stuck at the contemplation stage will hardly be ready to implement changes, because there is a high chance they will never get on to the preparation stage.
How to increase the likelihood of sticking with your New Year’s resolutions
1. Be realistic.
The previous section shows that one of the most important conditions for fulfilling New Year’s resolutions is realism. Think about how much resource you have to realize your plans and how you can balance them with work and other chores. It’s about both time and psychological resources. After all, if the mere thought of a few extra tasks on your daily to-do list causes you stress, you probably should reconsider your promises and make them more realistic.
When planning the coming year, we usually want to improve many different areas of our lives. But how likely is it that you’ll fulfill 10 or 20 resolutions? Very unlikely. So, it’s better to focus on a few really important ones.
2. Use positive motivation.
According to research conducted by Harvard Medical School, the key to successful behavior change is positive motivation. Sometimes, it’s negative emotions such as fear, guilt, or regret that trigger change, but this approach rarely gives good results. At the same time, experts confirm that you are more likely to implement long-term change if it is based on positive thinking. This can be also true about formulating New Year’s resolutions. Negative goals, such as “don’t do it” or “stop it”, are not very effective. To shift the focus to a positive attitude, you can simply rephrase the goal from “don’t eat fast food” to “eat fruits and vegetables every day.”
3. Focus on your own desires.
Sometimes, New Year’s resolutions do not reflect what you really want, but rather what other people expect from you. But the whole point of resolutions is to make you (not someone else) more satisfied with yourself and your life. So, instead of thinking about what you should want or do, focus on your true desires. Maybe you’ve been dreaming of taking up dancing or submitting your art project to a design contest. Think about what can bring you the most joy. Honest New Year’s resolutions are much more likely to be realized.
4. Turn plans into specific achievable steps.
If you don’t want your resolutions to remain unrealized dreams, develop an action plan. Write down practical steps that will allow you to reach your goal. In the art project example, you can start by researching what creative competitions or grants are currently being held. Here are some sample points for your plan: read the rules and requirements of the competition; review the works of winners of previous years; create a list of ideas for your own project; etc. By taking small steps every day, you’ll see your idea gradually come to life and you’ll hardly stop halfway.
5. Tell others about your New Year’s resolutions.
People who verbalize their plans and ideas are ten times more likely to achieve their goals. Being accountable only to yourself, you have great temptation to give up. But when someone else can witness your failure, it becomes a powerful impetus and motivates you to keep trying. To burn your boats, share your promises with your loved ones. Moreover, you can involve them in this process. Find a “buddy”—fulfill your New Year’s resolutions together and track each other’s progress. This is a great way to maintain and increase motivation.
To wrap up
People have been breaking their New Year’s resolutions for as long as New Year’s resolutions have existed. This is such a common practice that there’s even a separate holiday dedicated to it. January 17 is Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day. It teaches us to be kinder to ourselves and accept our own failures. Take it as an opportunity to revise your goals and make them more realistic. You can also use our tips to take small steps in reaching a big goal.
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