Raise a Glass to Change: Five Tips for Keeping New Year Resolutions
By Sonali Gupta
The New Year symbolizes new beginnings and hope in so many ways. While many would argue every day is a new day, for me, the end of a year provides a mental framework that can compel us to change for the better. And this is the difficult par in keeping your New Year’s resolution; change is difficult, no matter how many new diaries and planners you buy or notes you leave yourself. By the end of next year, most of us will be guilty of cheating or not following through. But these tips for keeping new year resolutions — backed by research — may help you build your willpower to sustain long-term change.
Tips for keeping New Year resolutions
Work toward one goal at a time.
Tips for keeping new year resolutions have to start here. Professor Richard Wiseman, who studied 700 people trying to keep up their resolutions, found that people who chose one resolution were more likely to be successful. Having one goal can bring greater focus, motivation and also more energy to devote toward achieving it.
Set a clear and realistic goal.
Keeping your new year’s resolution starts with realism. Ask yourself: Is this goal actually possible to achieve? Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy writes when we state unrealistic goals, we set ourselves up for failure. And when goals are not achieved, self-doubt, loss of self-control, and low self-esteem can surface and affect our motivation to pursue future goals.
I would have liked to set a resolution to meditate every day, but the very thought is overwhelming with my busy schedule. So I would redefine my goal to meditate three to four times a week with a clear timeline, duration and decision as to what kind of meditation. Make sure your goal has this level of detail so you can see and appreciate progress.
Be kind, but persistent.
When we are working toward resolutions, it is important to acknowledge there will be days when we are tired, overworked or sick, and this occasional interruption is normal. Don’t let these small setbacks define you. Be kind to yourself when this happens, but get back to it. Persistence is the key, as well as appreciating your own efforts and rewarding yourself for every small, manageable goal you achieve.
Announce your resolution and seek social support.
When people choose to share their resolutions publicly, the announcement not only reaffirms the goal, but also elicits support from loved ones. Talk about your resolution, whether with a buddy or an informal support group that values your progress and can give you positive feedback when you make incremental changes.
One of my clients, who decided to go vegan, shared her plan on social media and, within minutes, she found like-minded people who shared recipes and started monthly meetings that helped her in the journey. Whether on- or offline, support is important.
Understand that willpower isn’t limitless.
Contrary to popular belief, willpower is not a character trait, with an inherent, fixed level, but rather a function of the brain, controlled by our prefrontal cortex. Roy Baumeister, who is considered an authority on willpower, has found through experiments that willpower gets depleted when people use it.
In another experiment, Professor Baba Shiv, a Stanford psychologist, asked two groups of people to remember either a two-digit or seven-digit number. Then, they were offered either a chocolate cake or a bowl of fresh fruit. He found those who had been given seven-digit number were twice as likely to choose cake as compared to those asked to remember simpler two-digit numbers. Shiv concluded that having to remember a seven-digit number led to cognitive overload and, as a result, the people were not able to resist the cake.
People use willpower all the time without realising the consequences. Factors such as hunger and fatigue impact our willpower (think: binge eating after a long day of work), which can make keeping your New Year’s resolution harder. But willpower can be strengthened, even if it can’t be limitless. Kelly McGonigal, Stanford psychologist and author of the book The Willpower Instinct, advises kindness to one’s self and meditation techniques as ways of building willpower.
In the end — or rather, at the start — I suggest keeping this quote by poet and theologian GK Chesterton in mind, along with these tips for keeping new year resolutions: “The object of a new year is not that we have a new year, but rather we should have a new soul.”
May the new year be a wonderful time to exercise and strengthen self-awareness, willpower, and self-care for us all.