The Psychology of New Year's Resolutions
The success of your New Year's resolutions starts with your head. Limiting yourself to a few resolutions, maybe even one, and being specific are a few things to keep in mind, says Michael Kitchens, assistant professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. "It's tempting to make a list of 'to-dos,' but that list will easily be overwhelming and you will end up frustrated."
Setting a specific goal can make all the difference, such as "I want to lose 10 pounds by March 1" or "I want to save $50 of each paycheck."
"Set a goal that is challenging, but manageable," says Kitchens. "This is a sensitive balance that really can only be made by each person."
Overly ambitious goals can drain a person's confidence when they're not met, agrees Ferrari. Instead, build on small, observable victories and possibly achieve bigger goals down the line. "Don't try and do everything," he says. "Take things on one at a time."
Whatever goals you do tackle, be sure to monitor your progress. "If your resolution is to lose weight, check your weight regularly. If it's to save money, write down where you've spent your money. Monitoring those few, challenging goals you set will dramatically improve your success rate," Ferrari says. Sometimes, just the act of recording everything you eat or spend can cause you to eat or spend less even if you don't consciously change anything else.
Many resolutions include overcoming bad habits, such as smoking, overeating or too much alcohol consumption. These could be tough because they are easy to rely on when stressed out.
"While these vices are especially difficult to overcome, they can be beaten," says Kitchens. "One of the best ways is to have a social support system." In other words, when you're feeling stressed, call a friend rather than open a bottle of red wine.
Whatever your New Year goals, give yourself some time to make them a reality. More time than you may have planned on, actually. While most people cling to the widespread belief that new habits can be formed in 21 days, new research is suggesting we need a longer timetable. One recent study found it took participants an average of 66 days to do something different -- and stick with it [source: PsyBlog].
The good news? If you take this advice, your new gym membership won't become obsolete until March.
Author's Note: Why do people make New Year's resolutions?
Although I doubt I'll keep them all (haven't yet), I'll still make resolutions this New Year's Eve. After researching this article, though, I will be doing one thing differently. This year, instead of sweeping goals that probably won't come to fruition, I'm going to divide them into more manageable pieces. Experts say I'll be more successful with goals that have easily identifiable steps -- and a reasonable timeframe in which to do them.
- Eisenstadt, Lisa. "Six Ways to Actually Keep Your New Year's Resolution." Dec. 30, 2011. (Dec. 7, 2012) Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2011/12/30/6-ways-to-actually-keep-your-new-years-resolution/
- Federal Citizen Information Center. "Popular New Year's Resolutions." (Dec. 7, 2012) http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/New-Years-Resolutions.shtml
- Ferrari, Joe. Personal interview. Dec. 10, 2012
- History. "New Year's." (Dec. 8, 2012) http://www.history.com/topics/new-years
- Kitchens, Michael. Personal interview. Dec. 10, 2012.
- Marist Poll. "Younger Americans More Likely to Make New Year's Resolutions." Dec. 29, 2011. (Dec. 7, 2012) http://maristpoll.marist.edu/1229-younger-americans-twice-as-likely-to-make-new-years-resolution-than-older-residents/
- PsyBlog. "How Long to Form a Habit?" Sept. 21, 2009. (Dec. 8, 2012) http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/09/how-long-to-form-a-habit.php
- Westacott, Emrys. "New Year's Resolutions Always Disappoint, so Let's Try Something Else." Dec. 31, 2011. (Dec. 7, 2012) The Daily Beast. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/12/31/new-year-s-resolutions-always-disappoint-so-let-s-try-something-else.html