The dawn of a new year is often accompanied by a determination to turn over a new page in our lives – perhaps to work harder, study more, get fit or just sort our lives out. It all seems so easy on January 1, but why is it so hard to actually succeed in our plans? Is it because we are weak-willed and lazy or is there some other, more ‘psychological’ reason for our failure?
Psychologist Timothy Psychl describes New Year resolutions as ‘cultural procrastination, a way of motivating ourselves that is doomed to fail. They fail, he suggests, because people are not actually ready to change their habits, particularly the bad ones. People may also hold a mistaken belief in a cause and effect relationship between the behaviour to be changed and the overall quality of their life. Unfortunately, as we all know, this is frequently not the case, as losing weight does not necessarily make us happier and working hard does not always bring the much craved for instant success. As a result, we get discouraged and revert back to our old behaviours.
Ultimately, making resolutions work involves changing our behaviour, and in order to do that, we need to change the way we think. This is not as easy as it sounds, as habitual behaviour is created by neural pathways and memories within the brain that become the default option whenever we are faced with a particular choice or decision. Change requires the formation of new neural pathways and new ways of thinking and that takes time and considerable effort.
So, don’t be disheartened this New Year’s Eve, but make sure your resolutions follow a few simple rules:
- Focus on something achievable and specific. Instead of resolving to ‘work harder’ try ‘one hour’s psychology reading every day’. Instead of ‘getting fit’, try ‘half an hour’s strenuous activity every day’.
- Take small steps in what you want to achieve. Resolutions often fail because they are too big, too overpowering to accomplish all in one go.
- Focus on the present – what can you do now in order to bring you closer to your desired goal?
- Have an ‘accountability buddy’ – someone close to you that you can report your progress to and who can encourage you.
- Focus your mind on the new behaviours and thought processes – remember you need to create new neural pathways in order to change habits.
And above all, have a good New Year – and remember, this year will be YOUR year!