Dynamic Psychotherapy

Dynamic Psychotherapy is a Melbourne Psychology Practice with an ISTDP focus

Making and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions: A Psychological Perspective

Every year, people across the world try to make the most of the opportunity for reset that the start of a new year provides to set their goals for the year. Unfortunately, for many individuals these New Year’s resolutions are short lived, and do not result in lasting and meaningful change. In this short article, I will share some tips that can help in making sure your New Year’s resolutions stick.

1. Set Achievable Goals

When it comes to making New Year’s resolutions, the key to success often lies in setting goals that are achievable. Psychology suggests that when we set goals that are realistic and attainable, we are more likely to stay committed and see them through to completion.

Understanding Your Limits

Recognising your personal and situational limits is crucial. Goals should challenge you, but not be so ambitious that they are unattainable. For instance, resolving to run a marathon when you haven’t jogged a kilometre may lead to discouragement. Instead, aim for a series of smaller milestones, like completing 2 kms, then 5kms, as you work towards your ultimate goal.

The S.M.A.R.T. Approach

A useful method for setting achievable goals is the S.M.A.R.T. criteria: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Let’s say your resolution is to get fitter. A S.M.A.R.T goal would be: “I will attend three yoga classes per week for the next month.” This is specific and measurable, achievable and realistic, and it is set within a clear time frame. At the end of the month, the goal can be revised to attending yoga classes three times a week for a further two months.

Flexibility and Adaptation

It is also important to be flexible. Life’s unpredictable nature means that adjustments might be necessary. If you face setbacks or find your goals too challenging, reassess and modify your goals rather than give up on them. The aim is progress, not perfection.

2. Break Your Goals Down

Dividing your New Year’s resolutions into smaller, more manageable tasks is a vital step in the journey toward achieving them. Psychology tells us that breaking down goals makes them less overwhelming and more achievable. This approach helps maintain motivation and provides a clear roadmap for success.

Incremental Progress

Psychology emphasises the importance of acknowledging small wins and progress. Each step forward is a success, boosting your confidence and motivation. Celebrate these small victories to maintain your enthusiasm and commitment.

The Power of Subgoals

Creating subgoals transforms a daunting objective into a series of achievable steps. For example, if your resolution is to write a book, start by setting a goal to write a certain number of words or pages each day or week. These smaller goals are easier to tackle and give a sense of progress and accomplishment.

Visualisation and Planning

Visualise each step of your resolution. If your goal is to save a certain amount of money, visualise how you’ll adjust your budget each month. Planning each step helps identify potential obstacles and prepare solutions in advance, reducing the likelihood of being derailed by unexpected challenges. Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy talks about not “faking it to you make it” but “faking it until you are in” referring to the importance of relating to yourself as if you can truly transform.

Creating a Timeline

Allocate a specific timeline to each subgoal. This gives a sense of urgency and a clear deadline, which can be a powerful motivator. Timelines also help in tracking progress and ensuring that efforts are aligned with your ultimate goal. Find the best way for you to track your progress and monitor your timeline, whether that be using your phone, another device, or keeping a written record.

Regular Review and Adjustment

Regularly review your subgoals to ensure they remain relevant and achievable. Life circumstances can change, necessitating adjustments to your plans. This flexibility can prevent frustration and keep you on track towards your overall resolution.

Rewarding Milestones

Incorporate rewards for achieving each subgoal. Rewards can be a great motivational tool and help maintain enthusiasm. Choose rewards that are meaningful and encourage further progress toward your larger goal.

3. Habit Building Takes Time

One of the most fundamental aspects of achieving New Year’s resolutions is understanding and embracing the time it takes to build new habits. Psychological research has consistently shown that creating lasting behavioural changes requires patience, persistence, and an understanding of the nature of habit formation.

The 21/90 Rule

A popular concept in habit formation is the 21/90 rule. It suggests that it takes 21 days to create a habit and 90 days to establish it as a permanent lifestyle change. Whether you aim to exercise regularly, eat healthier, practice mindfulness, or learn a musical instrument, consistency over these periods is key.

Understanding Habit Loops

Habits are formed through a cycle known as the habit loop, which consists of three elements: the cue (or trigger), the routine (behaviour itself), and the reward. Recognising and deliberately structuring these elements can significantly aid in forming new habits. For instance, if your goal is to go for a run each morning, set a specific cue (like placing your running shoes next to your bed), follow the routine (the run), and then reward yourself afterwards.

Consistency Over Perfection

It’s important to focus on consistency rather than perfection. Missed days or setbacks are normal and part of the process. What matters most is getting back on track as soon as possible without being overly critical of yourself.

The Role of Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is a crucial element in habit building. Be kind to yourself during this process and recognise that building new habits is a journey with ups and downs. Positive self-talk and understanding your own efforts can make a significant difference in sustaining motivation and resilience.

4. Conclusion

Making and keeping New Year’s resolutions generally requires attention to a process, and successful goal setting is closely linked to psychological concepts. By setting realistic goals, breaking them down into subgoals, understanding the time required for habit formation, and being kind and patient with ourselves, we can turn our resolutions into achievable, sustainable practices that enrich our lives. And again, remember to acknowledge and celebrate the achievement of each goal along the way to your ultimate goal. Let this New Year be a time of positive change, self-improvement, and a step forward in your journey of personal growth.

Making and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions: A Psychological Perspective

Dynamic Psychotherapy

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