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New Year’s resolutions with the eyes of a psychologist

Newsletter - Jan 2015 - 2015To resolve or not to resolve?
That is the question…

Work less – work more, go on the wagon – tipple a bit more, spend more time with family/friends – spend more time alone…

There are many things we promise ourselves before the end of the year and making New Year’s resolutions is a popular custom all across the world. But is it really helpful and does it bring success? In a way, it’s a wonderful habit: reflect upon the past and make plans for the future to improve yourself and your relationships. In a way, it’s a do-it-yourself psychotherapy. But does it actually work?

Research shows that in most cases it doesn’t. According to a University of Scranton survey published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, around 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions and only 8 percent achieve them.

Many give up on their New Year’s resolutions quite early with some not even make a single step toward their goal. This often leads to the feelings of guilt and shame, which are strong, painful effects that generally deter us from moving forward. So what’s the secret to making a few steps forward or even reaching the goal we set for ourselves?

Want the change

First of all, make sure you really want the change. People often make New Year’s resolutions that are about giving up something they enjoy. It may be a good idea to quit smoking, drink less alcohol, or get home earlier from the office, but it should be something you feel ready to do. There are various “popular” New Year’s resolutions but it’s best to choose a target that really fits your needs and nature.

Keep it realistic

Secondly, make realistic resolutions. If you’ve always been a night owl, then getting up earlier may not be the thing for you, and if you have just been promoted, you most probably will not have less work load and be able to give up multi-tasking.

Also, if your goal is vague and undefined, reaching it is highly unrealistic. “I want to be healthier” – many will say. But what does this exactly mean? What are the changes you must make in order to reach this goal and how will you do them? Eat more vegetables? Drink less alcohol? Exercise more? Or stress less at work? All of these are important factors, but it’s better to decide on small changes and be very specific about your goal. Afterwards set a time frame and make an action plan to reach your goal.

If you want to be healthier, first choose one aspect of it, and decide when, where, and how you will pursue this goal. For example, “I will go for a run in the evenings after work once a week for one month”, then monitor your activity and reward yourself for each achievement such as finishing each run during the month. If you don’t manage to fulfill your task on one occasion, don’t blame yourself or put off the whole plan, but instead search for, and deal with, the underlying reason you missed it and get back on track. If you find you are getting home too late from work maybe you should rethink the timing of the run, or if you’re not making it to the track because it’s too far then find a location closer to home.

Public or private

And there’s the question of going public about your resolution. In general, it’s good to share your plan with a few close people, especially if you can get them involved in pursuing the goal together, which helps keep motivation up and it’s also more fun to strive for the target together. On the other hand, it may not be a good idea state your resolution every chance you get, because you don’t want people constantly asking you if you are on track and then having to make excuses for every little setback. This again, strengthens the guilt factor, which we want to avoid by all means.

Concerning the time frame, setting small steps and monitoring them is the key to goal attainment. Accordingly, the idea of “grand resolutions” is rather a myth and should be reconsidered. Making a new “mini resolution” every time you reach the previous one will much more likely help you get forward.

And while for some the New Year is the right time to start something new, others might prefer a different timing for renewal, such as the start of spring or the beginning of a new school year. And sometimes it’s better not to wait and start change now and not later.

All in all, it may the best to let go of New Year’s resolutions and start believing in “every day resolutions”.

Adrienn Kroó – Psychologist

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This article appeared in our January, 2015 Newsletter. For further information about the online publication and to sign up, please click here.


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