Tag Archives: New Year resolution

New Year – ‘one shot’ resolutions and don’t worry how you feel at midnight

new yearNew year is expectation-tastic with its contradictory pressures of having a stonking New Year’s Eve, and then a sanctimonious fresh start on New Year’s Day.  The fantasy is that suddenly, all those things we wanted to be but fell short of last year will suddenly click into place.

In my 20s the focus was mostly on plans for the night of New Year’s Eve. I once spent a New Year on my own. It was great. I made myself spaghetti and wrote a short story. It was good because I had the choice though. Like most things, if you can decide to do something it feels better than if the situation is inescapable. I was alone but I didn’t feel lonely, and I had the luxury of knowing that if I did I could probably run out into the night and find a friend at short notice.

The opposite of loneliness is connection, which we can feel with people even if they aren’t with us, but which is harder to feel when we’re under threat, or when black and white dichotomies in viewpoint make overlaps in perspective harder to spot. Power, territory, and certainty, featured heavily in many of 2018’s conversations instead of curiosity, explanation and a search for connection. I think many of the consequences of those conversations were all the worse for that.

Now that I’m solidly in my late 30s the question of what I’m doing for New Year gets asked much less, but questions about New Year’s resolutions remain.

One view is that New Year is just another day. This might sound like a negative but actually I see it in reverse: we can change things any day we like. Each day, each hour, each moment can be a fresh beginning. The reality of making changes is that it doesn’t happen once and stick. If it did we’d all be doing it. It’s a process, a cycle going round and round as we fall off whatever wagon we’re on and struggle back on again. For me this year I hope to work on many of the same things as last year, and the year before that. That’s not failing, it’s living a life and thinking about it as you go.

The pressure for New Year to be happy, like the pressure for Christmas to be the same, can mean it’s harder to feel contented and easier to feel disappointed or lacking. It’s just another moment though, and whatever we feel at the stroke of midnight on the first of January we can be sure it will be transient.

An interesting alternative view to New Year’s resolutions comes from Lee & Dai’s (2017) paper on how temporal landmarks affect motivation. They found that people do make more changes after time landmarks like the start of a year or just after a birthday. The authors concluded that these landmarks can be helpful, for encouraging a sense of “fresh start” – a sort of ‘line in the sand’ between our old and new selves. The study findings showed that it was hard for people to stick to a change though, and the authors concluded that it might be more helpful to pick a “one shot goal” to take advantage of that spike in motivation that we might get from a new year, or even a new month or week.

Whatever you get up to for New Year, however you feel on the bong of midnight, and whether you pick a goal you want to bosh in the first few weeks of 2019 or not, Happy New Year from me.


How can you keep your New Year’s Resolutions?

linzie hunter resolutions

Top psychological tips on how to stick to it here on HuffPo from yours truly, along with some beautiful hand-lettered resolution reminders from the fab illustrator Linzie Hunter.

New Year’s Resolutions: it is possible to stick to them


Pondering my own New Year’s resolutions this year led me to looking up what research has been done on this phenomenon. A very well-written paper from 1989 by Norcross & Vangerelli describes the origins of the New Year’s resolution. Apparently resolutions hail from Roman times, when people promised the two-headed God Janus that they would behave better. Janus looks both forwards and backwards and is whom the month of January is named after.

Common New Year’s resolutions include weight loss, giving up smoking, or kicking alcohol, with ‘dry January’ becoming increasingly popular. Norcross & Vangerelli followed the efforts of 200 Americans who pledged to change something about their lives. They followed them up over a two year period, after these people volunteered in response to a regional TV broadcast. Researchers called the participants up at one week, two weeks, three weeks, a month, three months, six months and two years later. Participants were asked about how they were doing with their resolution and also about the coping strategies they were using to make changes.

Over 75% of participants had kept their resolution at the one week follow up, but by two years this had reduced to 19%. Not bad, but still, the authors wanted to understand what had helped this 1 in 5 keep their resolutions. People who were better at sticking to their resolutions were more likely to keep reminders around themselves of the resolution they were trying to stick to. Giving oneself rewards for making changes was also associated with sticking to resolutions. In contrast, wishful thinking (wishing the problem would just go away by itself) and self-blame (getting at oneself for a ‘slip up’) were associated with not sticking to the resolution.

When asked what was most or least helpful, four strategies were most often identified as being good: exercise, gradually reducing an unwanted behaviour in order to give it up, rewards for succeeding, and having reminders of the goal. Least helpful were: lack of willpower, lack of seriousness about the resolution and being in environments which conflicted with the resolution (e.g. trying to give up smoking but spending time with other smokers). Lots of people reported times when they accidentally went back to doing whatever it was they were trying to give up, but 70% reported that this strengthened their resolve, which is encouraging to remember if you fall off the resolution wagon.

In fact, motivational interviewing, a therapeutic technique used in helping people to give up substance abuse, recognises that ‘falling off the wagon’ and having continued ambivalence about making a change in our behaviour is entirely normal: something to be worked with, not something to beat ourselves up about.

So, top five tips to help you to change something for 2014:
1. Make sure you are serious about wanting to make the change. To do this, you could try writing out some pros and cons of making the change, long-term and short-term. Follow this up by writing out the pros and cons, long-term and short-term, of staying with things how they are. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Or do the long term benefits of making a change outweigh the short-term rewards of the behaviour you want to get rid of? You might also try to imagine yourself in six months time having stuck to your resolution, and in one year, what would be different?
2. Reward yourself when you stick to your resolution
3. Don’t get at yourself if you lapse, just get back to it
4. Surround yourself with reminders of your resolution
5. Try not to be in environments which make it hard to stick to your resolution

Good luck! And let psychology magpie know if these things work for you!