How to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolution: Tips from a Psychologist

The year’s about to end again. So you know what that means, right? Time to make your New Year’s Resolutions! 

I’ve seen it many times in my friends, clients, and myself included. We start January 1st with this surge of energy and plans to conquer the world. Gym routines, money-saving strategies, you name it. 

But come mid-January, it’s like the enthusiasm hits a wall. Your motivation is gone. Your energy is depleted. 

Life gets in the way, routines slip, and those grand plans? Poof, gone like yesterday’s news. 

It’s almost comical, this cycle of big aspirations fizzling out faster than a sparkler on New Year’s Eve. 

But you know what? Every year, we pick ourselves up, dust off those resolutions, and give it another shot, hoping that maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. But will it? 

Here are a couple of insights and tips to keep in mind to make your New Year’s Resolutions stick. These ideas are based on science and psychology.

Why Making a New Year’s Resolution is Tricky

New Years Resolution

Making New Year’s Resolutions is amazing to think about. Exciting even. A promise to ourselves to make the coming year better. And make it the best we’ve ever had. Who wouldn’t want that?  

But getting them to stick around? Well, that’s where things get a bit tricky. That’s because introducing new habits and eliminating old ones is not as easy as most people think. Here are the most common reasons why people fail to make change stick. 

Having an unrealistic goal

Imagine setting out to climb Mount Everest when you can’t even climb a flight of stairs without wheezing. That’s how some resolutions feel. They’re these massive goals that seem super cool but can also feel impossible to reach. And when we can’t touch those big dreams, it can feel like we’re failing. That’s why having more realistic goals is better if you want to make them stick. 

Not having cheerleaders

Ever tried to keep a secret all by yourself? It’s tough! Change can feel that way too. When nobody’s cheering us on or sharing the journey, it’s easy to lose motivation. So, having a buddy or a group going through the same journey can be like extra gear to keep us going. 

Change can be strange

Picture this: your brain is this cozy place that loves its routines. Like your favourite comfy sweater. Introduce something new, and it’s like wearing a sweater made of pineapples—uncomfortable and strange. 

That’s how our brains sometimes feel about change. That’s why slow and steady introductions to new habits (and elimination of old ones) tend to win the race here.

Following peer pressure

Remember those times you did something just because everyone else was doing it? 

It might have felt “meh” afterward. The same goes with your New Year’s Resolutions. 

It shouldn’t be about doing what’s trendy. They should be about what genuinely matters to you. Picking resolutions just to impress others usually doesn’t stick for long.

Not having a clear vision

Having an abstract resolution like “I will lose weight” is like trying to chase a shadow. You can run after it all you want, but you’ll never be able to grab it. 

When our resolutions are all blurry and vague, it’s hard to know if we’re making progress. So it’ll also feel hard to feel rewarded and motivated. 

Being specific about what we want and how we’ll get there can be a massive help.

Make use of your brain to make resolutions stick

New Years Resolution

Our brains are like magicians, pulling off these sneaky tricks that sometimes make sticking to resolutions feel like solving a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. But once we understand these tricks, we can outsmart our own minds to make those resolutions stick.

The ‘Must Finish’ effect 

Ever felt that itch to complete something you’ve started? That’s your brain’s way of nudging you. It turns out, our brains hate leaving things undone. So, starting with even tiny steps on your resolutions can make a huge difference. It’s like planting a seed; once it’s in the ground, you’ll want to water it and see it grow. 

The most important thing here is to always start. No matter how small the action is. 

Seeing what we want 

Our brains are picky about what they pay attention to. They love things that match what we already believe. So, if you surround yourself with stories of people who’ve nailed their resolutions, guess what? Your brain takes notes and thinks, “Hey, that could be me too!” It’s like having a cheerleader squad in your head.

This makes having a vision board, mentors, and a community come into play. These things make new year’s resolutions easier to accomplish. 

It’s now or never

We’re all about the instant rewards, not the ones far down the road. It’s why diving into a tub of ice cream feels way better than a salad for future health. But if we find little rewards along the way, like treating yourself to something nice after sticking to your resolution, suddenly, it feels more worthwhile.

This is why you need to have smaller milestones along your journey. Use these times to reward yourself for the progress you’ve accomplished. Want to lose weight? Reward yourself for going on a workout streak. 

Our identity matters:

Our brains love things that fit into our self-image. If you see yourself as someone who’s fit and healthy, picking resolutions that match that self-image feels more natural. It’s like picking a character in a game; you want them to reflect who you are or who you want to be.

This is when positive affirmations and self-talk play a big role. If you have a negative and unsupportive self-talk, you’ll never accomplish your resolutions. But if you see yourself as the person you want to be, instead of the person you used to be, then getting your new habits to stick will be easier!

Loving our choices: 

Even if they’re not the best, we stick to what we’ve picked. Our brains have this habit of sticking to choices we’ve made, even if they’re not the smartest ones. So, if we keep reminding ourselves why our resolutions are important to us, we’re more likely to stick with them.

A trick a lot of successful people do is to use the “Don’t Break the Chain” method. This is when they mark their calendar for every day they perform their

Guidelines from a Psychologist

Professional Advice: New Years Resolution

When it comes to sticking to resolutions, having a playbook makes the journey a thousand years easier. These tips are like gold nuggets—they make the path to success smoother and the journey more enjoyable.

Tip#1: Get SMART: 

Picture your resolution like a map; you need clear directions. That’s where SMART goals come in. These goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. So instead of just saying, “I want to get fit,” try saying, “I’m going to get healthy by going for a 30-minute jog thrice a week.” Ensure the plan is achievable, if you haven’t been for a run for a while, start with 1 or 2 runs a week and work up to 3 over a period of time. 

Tip#2: Focus on building routines: 

Imagine building a house; you start with a strong foundation. That’s what routines do—they lay the groundwork for sticking to resolutions. When you slot your resolution activities into your daily routine, it becomes a habit. So, if you want to read more, designate a specific time each day to dive into a book.

Tip#3: Be kind to yourself: 

Ever made a mistake and felt like it was the end of the world? You broke one of your resolution rules, and now you feel like all your hard work has gone to waste. It’s tough! 

But here’s the thing: mistakes happen. Being kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned is crucial. Treat yourself like you would a friend facing a rough patch—it’s okay, tomorrow’s another day. Allow yourself to slip once in a while. 

No one gets it 100% of the time. Even the pros don’t have a 100% batting average. Aim to complete your routine/habits at least 70% of the time. 

Tip#4: Use reminders and anchors: 

Ever put a sticky note on the fridge to remember something? That’s the idea! Connect your new habits to things you already do. It’s like linking a new dance move to your favourite song; it just flows better. So, if your resolution is to drink more water, maybe every time you brush your teeth, you’ll have a glass of water.

Tip #5: Adapt and keep on improving 

Think of your resolution as a science experiment. You try something, see how it works, and then tweak it. Regularly checking your progress helps you stay on track. If something isn’t working, that’s okay! You’re not stuck; you’re just refining your approach. Being adaptable with your approach is important in succeeding. 

These insights and ideas are like having a treasure map to success. By implementing these strategies, you’re not just making resolutions; you’re building a path toward your best year ever! It’s time to say goodbye to failed New Year’s Resolutions, and hello to your best self this year. 

By Phillipa Brown: Psychologist | Founder of MeHelp Psychology

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