Some resolutions are made on the spur of the moment, while others take late-night ponderings. Whatever the case, the beginning of a new year brings with it, for many, new resolutions that by now they would have started.
But how many of us actually follow through what we plan?
It’s no secret that despite the best intentions and preparing for change, many people struggle to stick to their new year resolutions because change is, well, difficult.
Some reports say more than 80% of people are likely to ditch their resolutions two months into their plans, and make the same commitments again the following year.
Elizabeth Jones, head of Monash University Malaysia’s Department of Psychology, says there’s been a trend in apps and gadgets that promise to help people with their new goals, but she’s sceptical about their real value in achieving behaviour change.
“Gadgets can monitor our behaviour, but they can’t change it,” she says. “Though they can be useful, we need to set in place other conditions that can help us change our behaviour.”
Apps and gadgets need to be used in conjunction with other strategies, she says. For instance, someone looking for a lifestyle change may find smart technologies work better with a health professional or support group.
“Humans are creatures of habits, so changing our behaviour is hard work,” she says. “It is much easier to keep doing the same things.
“It’s helpful when we have good practices, but not useful when trying to change bad habits.”
She says part of the problem is that many people set unrealistic goals that inevitably lead to failure and an unwillingness to try again, at least until the next year rolls around.
She advises that people instead “set realistic, measurable and achievable goals”.
“We’re more likely to engage in new behaviour when executing it with other like-minded people who will encourage us to carry on.”
“This may mean aiming for small changes that are not too difficult to achieve. For example, a short 15-minute walk is more realistic and attainable than a five-kilometre run.
“It’s best to have smaller subordinate goals to help you work towards a bigger goal than making a beeline for a greater superordinate goal,” she says.
Social support is also crucial when making changes.
“We’re more likely to engage in new behaviour when executing it with other like-minded people who will encourage us to carry on,” she says.
“Some find pursuing life-changing activities more enjoyable when done in groups. Instead of simply relying on gadgets and apps, surround yourself with people who will support your goals.
“For many people, an appropriate health professional may be an important part of that social support. Such a person can help design realistic goals, identify barriers to change, and develop useful self-talk strategies to use.”
Self-reward can be beneficial
Professor Jones says that rewarding yourself when you have achieved a goal is helpful, and advises against punishing yourself if you don’t.
“There often are obstacles to achieving one’s goals, and identifying these barriers is the first step towards finding ways to overcome them,” she says.
“Do not let failure to achieve your goal the first time stop you from trying again. Many people are successful in changing their behaviour after multiple attempts.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has left people exhausted and still living with high levels of uncertainty. It’s had a significant effect on people’s mental health, but this shouldn’t stop us from pursuing some form of new year resolution.
“There is evidence that people who have focused on their resilience during the pandemic, who have focused on looking for ways that they can grow during the pandemic, have better mental health. And goals that develop our sense of autonomy, sense of competence, and sense of social connection are also good for our wellbeing,” Professor Jones says.