New Year’s is the grown-up version of back-to-school. They both have the same fresh start vibe. Now is the time to reset and think about what you want to accomplish in the next 365 days.
Maybe your goals are centered around getting healthier, the most popular resolutions Americans made in 2022. Or perhaps your goals are more career-oriented, such as having more virtual meetings with people in your field that you admire or mentoring recent grads from your university. Or, maybe this year, your resolutions are centered around self-care, such as finally taking that music class you’ve been thinking about or setting better boundaries between work and home.
Having goals is motivating. But here’s the thing about New Year’s resolutions: Often, we fail at keeping them. About 30 percent of people fail their resolution just two weeks after making it. By the end of January, 36 percent of people give up. Six months into the year, that number increases to 44 percent. Considering the inverse of these statistics is more encouraging: Fifty-six percent of people are still succeeding at keeping their New Year’s resolutions six months into the year. Want to make sure you end up as part of that 56 percent? Psychologists have some advice.
Related: Let’s Kick Off the New Year Right—Here Are 55 New Year’s Resolution Ideas for 2023
Why New Year’s Resolutions Are So Easy To Fail
According to licensed psychologist and wellness coach Dr. Melissa Ming Foynes, PhD, there are several key reasons why so many people struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions. One is being unrealistic about what’s actually attainable long-term. “The end of the year is a natural time of transition in which we tend to reflect on what we’d like to retain or continue into the next year, and what we’d like to shed, let go of, or change. Because many people around us are also engaging in a similar form of reflection, it can give us a sense of increased momentum or motivation that empowers us to set intentions or make resolutions for the next year,” Dr. Foynes says. “While that kind of communal solidarity and inspiration can be helpful, it can also create pressure, leading us to be overly ambitious about what we can realistically accomplish given the parameters of our lives.”
Dr. Foynes adds that it doesn’t help that our culture favors quick fixes over slow and steady growth. Wanting to experience the payoff of our goals as soon as possible can lead to setting unrealistic resolutions.
Related: So What Exactly Is the Difference Between a Resolution and a Solution?
Psychologist, happiness coach, and author Dr. Sophia Godkin, PhD, says that another reason why resolutions can be hard to keep is because the vast majority of our behaviors are driven by our subconscious mind, leading to actions that are done quickly without thought. “So even though our best intention might be to not eat the cookie, to put on our gym shoes and go exercise, or to read more books instead of watching more TV, if those options require more effort than other alternatives, our brain just won’t do them,” she explains.
She adds that when resolutions are made, most people don’t consider that this is how the brain operates the majority of the time and that willpower alone (which requires more mental work than actions that are automatic) won’t lead to success.
Yet another reason why many can’t keep their resolutions, according to Dr. Foynes, is that the resolutions being made aren’t actually connected to one’s ultimate goal. For example, she says that a parent may have the resolution of being more patient with their kids, and in an effort to do so they vow to read one parenting book a month. But if the root cause of the impatience is actually lack of sleep, the vow to read more parenting books, while it may still be helpful, is misguided.
Related: The World’s Most Resilient People Swear By These 50 Habits
How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions
Now that you know why it can be so hard to succeed at keeping New Year’s resolutions comes the big question: how to actually stick with them year-round.
Step one, and the most important one, according to Dr. Foynes, is being realistic and specific. Part of this, she says, means creating a plan for how you’ll actually make your resolution happen year-round. For example, if your goal is to save a certain amount of money by the end of the year, what will you do each month (or even each week) to help you get there? The same goes for if you want to turn your side hustle into your full-time job. What small steps can you take regularly to make it happen?
Remember how Dr. Godkin said that most human behaviors are done subconsciously? Dr. Foynes says that this means that the more automatic you can make your actions, the better. For example, with the money-saving goal, setting up an automatic transfer into your savings account each time you get paid will make you more likely to meet your savings goal. Or, Dr. Foynes says, if you want to exercise more, making the commitment to take a walk after you each lunch—or something else you do every day—will make you more likely to do it.
“One reason this strategy is so effective is that when you engage in a behavior repeatedly over time, the synapses, or connections between the neurons in your brain, become stronger, faster, and more efficient—so there is literally a neuronal network that supports the maintenance of that behavior, often to the extent that you don’t need much of a plan or forethought to do it regularly,” Dr. Foynes explains.
This is the same exact advice Dr. Godkin says is key for keeping resolutions. Making the habits you want to do the easy choice will turn them into automatic actions. She adds that eliminating anything that could distract you from your goal can help with this too. For example, if you want to eat healthier, fill your pantry with healthy snacks instead of nutrient-void ones that you tend to reach for when you’re stressed or bored (again, often something done automatically without much thought).
Both psychologists say it’s also important to remind yourself why your resolution is important to you. Why do you want to achieve it? If you don’t have a deep connection to it, the chances are less likely that you’ll stick with it.
It’s exciting to have a fresh start with new goals to go along with it. Keeping these tips in mind will ensure your resolutions feel more motivating than challenging. This time next year, you’ll have a lot to celebrate!
Next up, see the 30 habits healthy people live by.