New year, new you. A new year is like a blank journal; the perfect opportunity to reinvent yourself and begin a fresh chapter in your life. All the mistakes of the previous 12 months shall be forgotten and buried to give rise to the new you. And so, you create a list of all the aspirations that will make this new life chapter a wonderful adventure. And yet, after a few months, those new year’s resolutions are left unfinished or completely forgotten. To achieve all your goals and experience true change, you should set resolutions that truly resonate with your needs, and get a strong dose of motivation and willpower.
Why do we make New Year’s resolutions?
Humanity’s need for making New Year’s resolutions is nothing new. About 4000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians were the first civilization on record to hold celebrations. During mid-March, when the crops were planted, Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning monarch. It was also a time for making promises to the gods so as not to fall out of their divine favors.
In 46 B.C., a similar tradition took place in Rome after Julius Caesar declared January 1 as the beginning of the new year. This was in honor of Janus, the two-faced god of new beginnings, doorways, and archers. Believing that Janus looked back into the previous years and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices and made promises of good behavior to the deity for the upcoming year.
A bit further in time, early Christians would spend the first day of the new year reflecting on past mistakes and thinking about how to do better in the future. Nowadays, many people, regardless of religious or spiritual backgrounds, make resolutions to themselves for self-improvement and the promise of a brighter future.
We just want to be happier
For some people, New Year’s resolutions are a matter of tradition. Others are drawn to this little ritual for the allure of starting from scratch. Most human beings have a natural tendency towards self-improvement and New Year, although an arbitrary day, provides us with a goal date to prepare our plans and get ourselves into the right mindset.
According to psychiatrist Glenn E. Miller, M.D., “the fact that so many people keep making resolutions year after year, even when they do not, or cannot, always follow through on them, indicates they have hope and a certain level of belief in their ability to facilitate change, becoming more of who they truly want to be.” This urgency for change responds to our inner desire of being happier; achieving the kind of life we believe we deserve.
Why New Year’s resolutions fail
Despite our pursuit of change, the detailed to-do lists, and the personal promise that this will be the year, resolutions are usually doomed to fail. According to a survey by the Statistic Brain Research Institute, about 91% of people don’t achieve their New Year’s resolutions. No matter the intensity of our determination, keeping the same level of enthusiasm and commitment throughout the next 12 months is tough work.
A few weeks into the new year, we become entangled by life’s many responsibilities and stressors. Inevitably, we lose track or even forget about all those goals we set. This, of course, is just a summary of the real problem. Motivation scientist and author Catherine Pulsifer believes New Year’s resolutions fail because “they are only a statement, or what we wish for in the coming year. There are usually no action plans, no deadlines, no backup plans. Sometimes they are unrealistic resolutions, with no other thought or plans besides the statement.”
As the saying goes, it’s not the horse that draws the cart, it’s the oats. It’s not the gym or cardio sessions that will help you get in shape, it’s your motivation and the strength of your willpower. Good motivation and willpower will help you overcome the obstacles to achieving your goals. They will also encourage you to take all the necessary steps and build up the discipline to make a real difference in this new life chapter.
How to achieve your New Year’s resolutions
Choose the right WHYS
When you decide you want to eat healthily to lose weight, that might not be the right why — it is an incomplete statement. Think about why losing weight is a priority; how it will be beneficial for your health, how following a balanced diet will change your life positively. This is much more important than you think. As described by sustainable behavior change scientist and author Michelle Segar, whys or motivators “are the reasons for making those resolutions in the first place.” In other words, these “are the foundation of the entire behavior change process and have a domino effect.”
Motivation, after all, is the fuel of your actions. The strength of your motivation will eventually determine whether your resolutions are achieved, abandoned, or completely forgotten. Of course, waiting for motivation to knock at your door is easier than actually allowing that motivation in. After all, boredom, resignation, lack of discipline, and self-sabotage are part of human nature and motivation’s biggest enemies.
Set manageable goals
The “go big or go home” mentality doesn’t apply here; it is one of the main reasons why New Year’s resolutions are forgotten or never completed. The best thing to do is to start small and slowly make your way up to the top so you don’t feel overwhelmed. For example, instead of giving up desserts for good, try adding more fruit to your diet and progressively shortening your candy supplies as the weeks go by. Breaking down your resolutions into reasonable steps will make the tasks less intimidating.
Take it a week at a time
Avoid having multiple resolutions or resolutions you can’t fully commit to. While some resolutions are quite simple — like drinking three or four glasses of water per day — learning a new language, for example, demands more significant changes to your routine. You might need to enroll in a course or engage with learning resources regularly; schedule a time to practice what you learned, and assess your progress.
According to Ian Newby-Clark, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Guelph in Canada, people struggle with the willpower to commit to ambitious resolutions such as weight loss or language learning on top of simpler tasks. “It would take too much attention and vigilance to do all that and also decide it’s time to brush your teeth for the full two minutes and become better informed about world events,” says Newby-Clark.
So, take it a week at a time, don’t try to accomplish more than what you know you can. This doesn’t mean you should forget your resolutions, but rather, you should remember that you have 365 days to manage them. Sometimes, it’s okay to take a break from your goals and resume them once you have the time or the right mindset to go on.
Share with the world
Don’t be shy! Be open about your resolutions with your friends and family. The American Psychological Association recommends that you join a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a group of coworkers quitting smoking.
Having somebody else to share your challenges and successes will make the journey much easier and less intimidating. Most importantly, you will get an extra dose of motivation to keep going whenever you feel your willpower slacking.
As the proverb goes, all good things come to he who waits. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t see immediate results. Positive change doesn’t take place in the blink of an eye; it requires effort, passion, and, above all, consistency. Darya Rose, Ph.D., author of Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting, advises us to regard resolutions and new habits as an experiment rather than a judgment on your worthiness or skills.
“I don’t beat myself up if something doesn’t stick the first time I try it,” she states. “Instead, I ask myself: What worked? What didn’t work? And what could I do differently next time to achieve better results? I do this until I have a clear understanding of what stops me from doing something and what keeps me doing it, then I make sure those conditions are met. If I can make it so action is easy and rewarding enough to do regularly, then I win.”
Track your progress
Keeping a record of your progress is one of the easiest and most effective ways to stick to your resolutions. Research on goal-setting theory by the University of Washington discovered that the more you monitor your performance, the more likely you are to achieve your goals. By recording your trajectory in a journal, app, or any other method, you will be receiving frequent feedback, which motivates you to do better.
Mike Rousell, Ph.D., nutritional consultant, and author, writes her resolutions in a daily planner, then reviews and re-read them every day. “Each of my resolutions is quantifiable on a day-to-day basis, and I have direct control over my progress toward achieving them,” she says. “For example, the common New Year’s resolution of ‘weight loss’ is not actionable: You can’t wake up and ‘do’ weight loss, but you can wake up and have eggs with a side of fruit.”
New Year Resolutions worth sticking to
Losing weight, following a healthy diet, saving money, learning a new language, drinking less, mastering a new hobby, and so on. You might be familiar with those New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps one of them has made it to your list in the past. Of course, there is nothing wrong with those aspirations — they answer the desire to become better versions of ourselves. The problem starts when you make resolutions because of social pressure instead of what feels good to you.
This can be every bit as harmful as an abandoned resolution. To change, you should choose resolutions that respond to your individual needs and encourage you to be the best you. Here is a list of alternative New Year’s resolutions to help you take care of yourself and live a healthier and more positive life:
Prioritize your mental health
While most people will vow to exercise more and eat less, many don’t realize that physical and mental health go hand in hand. Just like the body, our minds are susceptible to illness. Without a healthy mind, any resolution you might have will be hard to keep.
If you have struggled with stress, anxiety, depression, or other types of mental afflictions over the past year, this resolution should be on top of your list. A good way to start is by scheduling a “me time” at least one hour a week, as advised by Melissa Coats, a psychotherapist, and owner of Coats Counseling. Any activity that nurtures you will do, whether it’s a long walk, listening to music, or having lunch with a friend.
Seeking professional support if you need an extra bit of help is nothing to be ashamed of. Having an expert to guide you and determine the best course of action to follow will certainly make a positive impact on your well-being.
Get good quality sleep
Sleep is the time when the body heals itself and prepares for the following day. During sleep, our bodies conserve energy, decrease blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. At the same time, our brains remain active by laying down memory, restoring daytime mental functioning, and carrying out important processes that lead to physical growth.
In today’s busy world, we make a habit of skimping on the recommended sleep hours thinking that we’ll catch up sometime throughout the week. This dangerous habit leads to sleep debt, where your performance and sleepiness both get progressively worse. Getting enough sleep has many benefits, including protecting your physical and mental health, quality of life, and personal safety.
This year, allow yourself plenty of resting time. If you are struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality, there are several methods to sleep naturally and soundly.
Destress after difficult days
A short dose of pressure won’t kill you. In fact, many people work at their best potential when under healthy bouts of stress. But, when stress is chronic, it becomes one of the biggest enemies for mental and physical health. Experts link high levels of stress with insomnia, obesity, depression, heart disease, and more.
Responsibilities, work, relationships, and money are sources of everyday stress. Avoiding all of those things is impossible. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to relax and equip ourselves with techniques to better cope with our stress levels. According to Roberta Lee, MD, and author of The Super Stress Solution, it’s all a matter of incorporating small, healthy habits into our routine.
“Stress is an inevitable part of life,” she says. “Relaxation, sleep, socializing, and taking vacations are all things we tell ourselves we deserve but don’t allow ourselves to have.”
Stay in touch with friends and family
A new year awakens the social animals in us. We feel inspired to meet new, exciting people. Instead of solely focus on expanding your social circles, you could also make room in your calendar to reconnect and deepen your bond with old friends and relatives. Apart from being personally rewarding, this New Year’s resolution can improve your life quality.
Research suggests that people with strong social ties live longer than those who don’t. A study published in the journal of PLoS Medicine concluded that a lack of social bonds can damage your health as much as alcoholism or smoking. Putting an effort into strengthening your closest relationships will redirect your life into a healthier direction. In this age of technology and communication, reaching a relative or friend is just a matter of seconds. No matter how hard it might seem, have a little courage, and start with a brief message or call.
We tend to believe that the key to happiness lies in focusing on our needs and putting ourselves first. Although this is important to our self-care, our happiness also increases when we help others, as suggested by certain studies. Peter Kanaris, coordinator of public education for the New York State Psychological Association states: “Someone who makes this sort of resolution is likely to obtain a tremendous personal benefit in the happiness department.”
Happiness is not just a wonderful, temporary feeling but also a healthy emotion. According to research, people with positive, joyful, and enthusiastic dispositions — what psychologists call “positive affect” — are less likely to suffer from heart disease and experience high levels of depression, hostility, and anxiety.
To enjoy happiness and, potentially, a healthier life, welcome the new year by volunteering or championing for a cause you feel positive about.
The joys and memories of a fruitful vacation stay with you long after you set your luggage aside. It is too easy to get stuck in the routine and get easily bored with our current surroundings. This is why we need to breathe fresh air from time to time. This, in turn, has many benefits as pointed out by Kanaris. “It makes you feel rejuvenated and replenished,” he adds. “It gets you out of your typical scenery, and the effects are revitalizing. It’s another form of new discovery and learning, and great for the body and the soul.”
Nobody can afford to travel regularly. Yet, traveling doesn’t have to mean pricey flights and luxury hotels. You can pay a short visit to a nearby city, town, or even have a walk around a neighborhood you are not familiar with. As you do so, try to retain your sense of wonder and be open to discovering different cultures, lifestyles, and people.
Improve your skills
This sentence sums it all. Investing your time in developing the skills, qualities, and personal strengths you already possess is extremely rewarding. It could be that you are gifted in drawing or dancing. Instead of ignoring those talents, you could focus on improving and becoming much better at them. Do your research and enroll in a course, workshop, or related activity.
Meditation is an ancient practice well known for helping you relax and enhance your concentration prowess. In short, meditation is a skill you learn to focus attention and awareness to achieve a healthy sense of perspective. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not sitting still for hours and controlling every single thought that crosses your mind. Rather, it’s a matter of connecting with your inner self and going with the flow of your mind.
Over the years, spiritual leaders, health experts, and scientists have studied meditation and discovered over a hundred benefits. According to research, when you meditate regularly, you change how your brain works; improve your health; achieve greater work productivity, and develop a higher sense of spirituality.
What makes meditation truly wonderful is its accessibility. There are many types of approaches to meditation — mindfulness meditation, sound meditation, love and kindness meditation, and transcendental meditation to name a few. All of these practices can take as little as 30 minutes of your daily schedule.
Make 2021 the year of real change
Another year has gone by. By now, you have probably already made a list of New Year’s resolutions you have sworn to accomplish. You will try to stick to your resolutions during the first weeks of the year. Or, you will delay them and delay them until you forget about them. Make 2021 the year of real change and personal growth. Kickstart this new life chapter by understanding what you truly wish and building a clear and inspirational action plan.