New Year’s Resolutions: new year = new me?
Coming towards the end of each year, we tend to reflect on the year’s main events – what we did well and what we did wrong to be able to learn from the lessons of the past and do some things better than we have before. The New Year is traditionally considered to be the time of new beginnings – a time for resolutions, embarking on the coming year with a “clean slate” with the hope of taking a step forward and having a better year in front of us. Over one-half of adults believe in New Year’s resolutions (Epcot Poll, 1985), these resolutions usually can be categorized into 3 bigger categories: (1) “physical health” (70%), (2) “self-improvement” (10%), followed by (3) “psychological health” (5%) category (Oscarsson et al., 2017). The younger generations tend to make several commitments each year (on average 3 – Marlatt & Kaplan, 1972); however, these personal promises are usually broken as time slips away – sometimes within weeks, sometimes even on the very second day. Within a week around 25%, meanwhile, throughout 2 years more than 80% of New Year’s resolutions are completely faded away (Connellan, 2011; Norcross & Vangarelli, 1988). Each year begins with heads held high, and people feeling energised and encouraged by good intentions to improve themselves and their environment… but how can we really make things last and make a lasting difference?
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New Year’s resolutions and self-improvement
“Resolutions are a declaration, a commitment that we make to ourselves. They allow us a chance to look at the past and the present and think about the future. Many of us focus on improving ourselves and the lives of those around us“
In other words, a resolution is a firm decision to start out with a good new habit or to break a bad one to make a positive change. It usually begins with the freedom – the will to acknowledge that there is room (a need?) for growth and involves looking back, reflecting on the past, and then looking forward by deciding on how to move ahead. We all look for some particular and easy-to-remember dates to start something new. All this is encouraged by a hidden attraction, a desire and/or curiosity whispering from inside – Where could I improve myself, who else am I destined to be? From ancient times New Year’s Day was labelled as an important day (Norcross & Vangarelli, 1988), a special date that might bring drastic changes to our lives:
– Drink less
– Quit smoking
– Study well – stop procrastinating
– Work harder
– Sleep more
– Exercise at least 3 days a week
– Eat healthier
– Save money – make wiser financial decisions
– Find a balance between work life and personal life
– Improve the relationships (colleagues, family, friends)
– Read min. a book a month
– Learn a new language
– Explore a new country
– Live greener – reduce, reuse and recycle
– Volunteer – help others
Does any of the most popular resolutions listed above sound familiar? What is your progress so far?
Making any positive lifestyle changes can be challenging, yet something about the start of a new year, a fresh slate with 365(6) brand-new days, makes all wonders seem possible. While it may seem easy to make resolutions, it can be far more difficult to keep them, especially now that we are experiencing a whole new world by still suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic (see also our previous article).
In the following section, we will go through some of the biggest mistakes and best solutions to be able to make long-lasting and life-changing New Year’s resolutions.Read More
Two-and-a-half-week wonder? January 19th the “Quitter’s Day”
As more than 70% of the resolutions tend to fall into the “physical health” category (Oscarsson et al., 2017) the research of the fitness app Strava team is quite interesting. They analysed data from 98.3 million uploaded activities, and the research shows that most of their customers break their annual commitment within 3 weeks, more precisely on January 19th called by them as the “Quitter’s Day” (Best, 2020).
As we can see many times our good intentions fade and fail with time. New year stands as an official time to start over, yet, for many, good intentions are lost quickly and never materialize into significant changes. The reason behind many not being able to stick even to the simplest New Year’s resolutions are usually one of the following:
– Too big, unrealistic goals,
– Not having the honest will to change,
– Frightening lack of resources (knowledge, money, time, etc.) vs. comfort zone,
– Not getting enough support (family, friends),
– Or even just being too drunk to remember (Connellan, 2011).
Focusing on personal growth through a change in attitude, motivation, and/or a state of mind
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Plan ahead + Prioritise + Focus = Keep you on track (Dodd & Sundheim, 2005)
As the above quotation encapsulates so well, it is crucial to have a plan that helps to keep our promises on the right track. Instead of losing sight of the goal (and hope as well), focusing desperately on unrealistic, unattainable targets dividing your resolution into smaller, measurable, easier-to-attain goals, the effort and sacrifice do not feel so intimidating. They can keep you motivated throughout the whole journey. Not to forget, that in this way, the joy of completing these little tasks one by one (measuring the success/progress) might provide you faith even in the darkest times when for example, the diet to-be-followed seems impossible as you already know that you are capable of the change you desire. Instead of framing our resolutions around a result, we can frame them around more specific positive actions, e.g., the effort to lose weight converted into exercise 30 minutes a day would hold a higher success probability.
Successful changes come in stages!
It is easier to adopt a new positive behaviour than to stop a negative behaviour (Connellan, 2011)
We rarely do what we don’t want to do, so first, it is worth checking on our current habits – are they good or bad / worth keeping or not? Whenever possible, piggyback on an existing habit – It’s much easier than to fight (and suffer) to introduce a new one.
Engineer your environment – Part1: As you make your bed so you must lie on it
The one who can always trust is yourself: you need to lead the change and prepare your (physical) environment to be able to achieve your goals – create micro-changes in your daily routine! Clean out your pantry, fridge, and storage. You don’t need unnecessary temptations lying around. Find a local gym and get a membership. Get yourself and your body on a schedule, set your alarm for the same time every morning, and go to sleep the same time every night. It might be hard at first, but the treasure awaits you at the end – closer than you would think! In the same vein, it is suggested that micro-changes work better if implemented daily by little steps at the beginning. Then, after getting used to it can be implemented more and more regularly into your lifestyle.
Engineer your environment – Part2: The fellowship of resolutions
Even the best-engineered environment cannot mean alone the solution, and even our most well-intentioned resolutions might sometimes seem a bit of an overreach, just too distant, too difficult to reach. It might happen that we need a little help as it is too much to handle on our own. As in every other field of life, it helps if we have a companion on the road to keep us on the right track—to share the joys and tears of the journey. Consequently, it is essential to remind those around you of your goals and try to make them sit on the same side of the table.
“(…) the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
Sometimes it is okay to fail, just don’t give up (Halpern, 2001)
We must admit that in contrast with fairy tales, here in the real world, sometimes even the best “the biggest heroes” slip. Sometimes it just doesn’t go that way as it should be – it happens. What really does matter is the long term: while you might occasionally fail, see it as a lesson — not a crushing defeat – and move on, move forward. Looking at New Year’s resolutions: 17% of people only succeeded after more than 6 attempts, but they grew at the end!
Because no one is perfect.
A new year came again with possibly bringing a “new me” as well as with the atmosphere of this particular date numerous new opportunities can be pursued with positive habits and lifestyle changes implemented (“forced”) into our life self-initially in our quest for health and self-actualisation (not just this day, though, but any day of the year if the right amount of willpower is there). People can indeed change; however, it might be hard at first. Even if only a tiny proportion succeed, it is better than not even trying – we grow by each lesson does not matter the battle is won or lost in case we have the right attitude. Therefore, resolutions should be realistic, specific, and not too numerous. Not to forget, the New Year package should include a plan of implementation: not only what you want to achieve but also how YOU CAN DO IT.
-Best, S. (2020). Day that people most likely to give up New Year’s resolutions – and it’s soon. Mirror. Retrieved 3 January 2022, from https://www.mirror.co.uk/science/day-people-most-likely-give-21199904.
-Connellan, T. (2011). The 1% solution for work and life. (1st ed.). Peak Performance Press.
-Dodd, P., & Sundheim, D. (2005). The 25 Best Time Management Tools & Techniques: How to Get More Done Without Driving Yourself Crazy (1st ed.). Peak Performance Press.
-Epcot Poll. (1985). Resolutions not kept long by most Americans. Lake Buena Vista, FL: Walt Disney World.
-Halpern, J. S. (2001). A New Year’s resolution: To make better resolutions. International Journal of Trauma Nursing, 7(1), 1-2. https://doi.org/10.1067/mtn.2001.112910
-Marlatt, G. A., & Kaplan, B. E. (1972). Self-Initiated Attempts to Change Behavior: A Study of New Year’s Resolutions. Psychological Reports, 30(1), 123–131. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.19184.108.40.206
-Norcross, J. C., Ratzin, A. C., & Payne, D. (1989). Ringing in the new year: The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14(2), 205-212. https://doi.org/10.1016/0306-4603(89)90050-6
-Norcross, J. C., & Vangarelli, D. J. (1988). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1(2), 127-134. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0899-3289(88)80016-6
-Oscarsson, M., Rozental, A., Andersson, G., & Carlbring, P. (2017). New Year’s resolutions: A large scale randomized controlled trial. In 9th Swedish Congress on Internet Interventions (SWEsrii), Linköping, Sweden, November 3, 2017 (pp. 11-11).
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Knowing your unique attributes and values can greatly help you fulfil your own “hero destiny” once you have found the right (career) path.