Resolving for a New Year

new-years-eve-1905142_1280Are you already stressed about your New Year’s resolution?

As we prepare for the New Year, it is important to remember that attempts at self-improvement are deeply rooted in psychological principles. It may be hard to stick with our resolutions, but an understanding of how to motivate ourselves can help you make lasting and powerful resolutions.

Of the millions of Americans who make them, only eight percent manage to stick with their goals throughout the year. In fact, less than half make it through the first six months, and only 64 percent last through January!

This rate of failure certainly does not signify weakness or lack of commitment, instead it is deeply rooted in how we make and change habits. We need to understand why New Year’s resolutions so often fail, and then we can look at some ways to make them stick.

Harvard social psychologist Dr. Amy Cuddy helps shed light on this question. Dr. Cuddy contends that resolutions suffer by focusing on outcomes far off into the future. If we aim to lose 30 pounds or quit smoking, it is incredibly difficult to realize those goals or to see any concrete progress. This leads to short-term failures completely derailing the whole process.

The author Charles Duhigg agrees. Mr. Duhigg, who has spent a reporting career analyzing the power of habits, argues that many resolutions fail by coming into conflict with deeply ingrained habits.

Mr. Duhigg encourages us to focus on developing new habits, creating goals that can be attained a little bit every day. This could involve beginning to go to the gym, rather than losing weight, or developing a substitute habit for smoking, instead of quitting outright.

Building off of this advice, the American Psychological Association (APA) compiled a series of tips on how to maximize the potential of our New Year’s resolutions.

They build on Dr. Cuddy and Mr. Duhigg’s advice in encouraging the development of new habits. Specifically, these habits should “start small,” making modest commitments and targeting only one behavior at a time. We cannot totally reinvent ourselves in the New Year.

Similarly, remember that you are not in this alone. It is easier to change habits if we talk to friends, family, or even join a support group. By talking to other people, we can open up about our challenges and be reassured that we are on the right track.

Finally, the APA stresses that we must be patient and kind to ourselves. If we fail in that diet or just really need to have that smoke, it is not a reason to abandon the whole endeavor. This often involves patience as different people form habits at different speeds. As behavioral psychologist Dr. Paul Marciano points out, “making lasting change takes time.”   

For more holiday-related blogs, see our past content here and here.

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