Why New Year’s Resolutions Are Good For You (Even If You Give Up)

In week 1 of your New Year’s resolutions? Feeling your resolve weakening? Thinking resolutions are all nonsense and maybe too stressful? But making New Year’s resolutions is good for us, even if we don’t stick to them. They are a way of balancing the (our) books, to take stock of our lives and to decide which parts we hope or want to change. And doing all this in a New Year feels psychologically ‘right’. Any time in the year is good to start new habits, of course, but January 1st is just such an appealing clean slate of a date.

Happy resolution-making

Making a list of resolutions is a happy moment; by deciding on what we want to change and setting ourselves goals, we are taking control of our lives and the sort of outcomes we seek from it going forward. This is a process that brings feelings of contentment and achievement ahead of time. It is like cashing in on our better, slimmer, more organised, kinder and more studious selves and this – by all means – is a truly happy moment of self-visualisation.

Why most of us can’t stick to them

But then 80% of us allegedly abandon our plans for our better, future selves, around 6 weeks into the year. This is when the honeymoon of our good intentions ends in a clash with reality. We will realise that we have set unrealistic or too ambitious goals and figure out that in order to establish change we actually need to change our ways. And this we seem to find very difficult. Research shows that over 45% of our daily behaviours are entirely habitual; meaning we spend half of our awake time doing the same things, even at the same time each day. Ten minutes late for school every day? You will be late tomorrow again. Why? Because you will put your alarm at the same time, press ‘snooze’ three times – like always - and spend as much time getting dressed as you did yesterday too, meaning that you fool yourself everyday again by thinking you can reach a different result by doing the same thing as the day before.

Doing the same thing each single day is an unconscious act; we would all be mortified and feel like old bores if someone would point out to us that we are such creatures of habit, even at a young age. Obviously, this repetitive behaviour will never make us change, no matter how we wish things (us) to be different and – in that case - any New Year’s resolution is bound to remain just a happy idea. So, how can we start breaking some of our habits that stand in the way of who we want to be?

Breaking habits or making new ones

To form new habits we first need to recognise what our existing ones are and take them out of our unconscious auto-pilot behaviour. How can we do this? There are many schools of thought on this topic, but a very plausible and easy to apply method is to start with very small changes and realise later – looking back - what an enormous ripple effect making these small steps can have. So instead of making big sweeping plans, like going to the gym five times a week, running a marathon in 2022 or becoming top of the class, some simple changes can make us more conscious of what we do in our day as they disrupt our habits in a small enough way to be effortless. Some tips to start with are:

  1. To get up 30 minutes earlier every day than we do now. The extra time will give us a better grip on our day as it will bring some precious minutes alone to think about and prepare our day.
  2. To do something new everyday; from watching a TedTalk, listen to a podcast or read a new blog on TalksforTeens (sic), to reaching out to an old friend, make a new one, try a new food or go for a jog (no pressure).
  3. To change the position of our desk or sit at a diffrent end of it when working or studying from home. This creates a surprising new outlook, literally. Because our habits do absolutely include always sitting at the same place at the table and looking at the same thing all the time in our workspaces. Try sitting in ‘someone else’s’ seat at the dinner table, for example, and this will make immediately clear how anchored people are to ‘their’ seat and how awkward things may become if they are ‘forced’ to sit in another seat (just saying….)

These 3 super simple steps could well create new habits, slowly, without us realising. After all, what we want and who we are is not expressed by what we say or what we want, but solely by what we do. Want to know what sort of person you are? Keep tab of your daily routines and a clear picture will soon emerge.

So now, being in week 1 of our resolutions honeymoon, we are still optimistic about the big changes we want and are going to make in 2022 and maybe some of us are actually doing it. But if you – like the other 80% - are giving up on your resolutions by mid February, then think how the easy and small changes can maybe do the trick too, or probably better.

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