New Year. New… Swabs. T-shirt tans. “January Sale” inboxes. Another 365 days brings with it many news for the year ahead, and if there’s one thing that’s consistently alongside it’s a new set of resolutions, goals or aims to kick off another round.
We see and hear a lot about resolutions. Making them, keeping them, choosing them, rebelling against them. But what we don’t actually see a whole lot of is the psychology behind them, and what separates out the men from the boys when it comes to making them happen.
So, to start another year of MH Mind Sessions let’s dive into what resolutions actually are and how to make them stick.
Dictionary wise, a ‘resolution’ is defined loosely as a clear and steadfast decision to either do something or not do something. Pretty simple. It’s a firm aim and endpoint, and surveys show our most common involve our health, fitness, appearance, career goals and relationships.
The history of New Year resolutions is actually pretty interesting, and it’s a tradition shared across the globe. As we mark the end to a year and pull out a whole new set of calendars there’s a sense of rejuvenation, reflection and new promise that naturally drives humans toward improvement and change.
Psychology might tell us what a resolution is, but it (more importantly) tells us too what makes a resolution more likely to actually happen. Research hasn’t shone us in the best light here that’s for sure, with studies showing that up to 70% already sideline their resolutions by the end of January and that even less of us follow them through the whole year.
There’s no holy grail to what makes or breaks a resolution, but science does tell us that these factors make whatever you’re dreaming and scheming for the year of ’22 more likely to make it through.
A (Real) Why
A lot of our most common resolutions are actually things that, deep down, we’re not all that invested in. Truth be told, things like “make more money” or “lose some weight” are all too often externally driven – they’re goals the world tells us we should have. Whether we want them or not.
Research consistently shows that resolutions with a strong internal ‘why’ and locus of control (they’re something actually important to us rather than just those around us) are those more likely to actually happen. Spend some time actually sitting down to nut out what’s really important and why that resolution really matters to you.
Take a quick scan of your mate’s social feeds and you’ll see that most resolutions are actually fairly vague. Things like “be healthier” or “relax more” are obviously ripper goals, but science tells us the more vague or open a resolution is, the less likely it is to happen.
Get specific and clear about your resolutions. See a defined end point and narrow them down to one, or multiple, outcomes. Breaking things into specifics like longer sleep, lowering blood pressure or five gyms sessions a week makes “be healthier” that much easier to achieve. Measurable outcomes you can actually track, see or feel bump up success rates massively too.
Another top tip from the science on resolutions is to go further than just shouting an end goal to the moon on NYE. Breaking goals down into stepwise parts consistently and impressively increases our chance of reaching them.
So when you’re setting out your resolutions this year, dive a little deeper. It’s great to have that final endpoint or lofty aim in mind, but spend some time creating an actual path to get there. Start small, take it a step at a time and plot out progressive goals that ladder up to the big win.
Resolutions with feeling behind them are the ones that make the distance. Motivation is a tricky beast and changing our behaviours and habits takes mental effort. So another key finding here is that resolutions with a strong emotional drive or value to them are far more likely to happen.
Attaching and regularly strengthening emotion behind a goal is thus a great way to boost our motivation around them. Stop and think about what getting the outcome might actually mean, and take some time to attach a strong emotional pull alongside it. If it’s a resolution around health, make a mental image of seeing your children grow (as example) its spark. For career goals, regularly hone in on the sense of pride and gratitude that’ll come with it. Visualisation can be a super power here – spend time regularly (every morning even if you can) visualising and really feeling that end-goal feeling.
A Final Note
A new year brings a whole host of ‘new’ with it, and if the last few are anything to go by it’s safe to say 2022 is set to bring more than its share. So while progress is important, it’s really (really) important to call out too that right now is tough and might not feel very resolution-y. And that’s more than ok.
If the end of this past year and the start of this new one has felt particularly rocky, know that resolutions come in all flavours and you’re not alone. Just getting through is a worthy goal. Prioritising health, happiness or rest over other pressures is more than ok. There’s no rule book or need for productivity pressure here so take things one step at a time and make the resolutions (or not) right now that work for you.