What is it about New Year’s Resolutions

What is it about New Year’s Resolutions

I know people who hate New Year’s Eve – they see it as enforced merriment and ridiculous joie de vivre in a world that hasn’t changed a jot since the misery of the year before. They are the New Year’s equivalent of Scrooge at Christmas. The ones who want to take the fun out of this small human celebration and bring us all thudding back to earth.

It really is good to let go of miserable reality from time to time and just have fun. Welcoming in a new year seems like as good an excuse as any. And along with the fun comes a sense of optimism, a belief, however fleeting, that this year things will be better than the last.

We’ve all been in need of a good dose of optimism these last few years.

Losing weight in the New Year. Is it just me or is this almost everybody’s resolution?  There is some research around dieting resolutions to back me up by Katharine Milkman and her team in Philadelphia.. They looked at Google searches for “diet” over 9 years and found a predictable pattern of peaks in searches at the beginning of weeks and months, and a huge peak in searches immediately after New Year. I’m sure the same would apply to all sorts of self-improvement quests.

That surge of New Year optimism is not limited to those of us who want to change our bodies or our behaviours. There’s a phenomenon on the stock market called the “January Effect” that has seen stock prices rise every year in January. It has had economists and psychologists fascinated for many years. There are many theories, but could it just be New Year optimism that drives it?

Do New Years Resolutions work?

John Norcross and his colleagues in the late 1980s showed that 50% of Americans made some sort of New Year’s Resolution. 6 months later only 40% of those people had stuck with their resolve. Frankly, I’m surprised that the numbers are so high. Behavioural change of any kind is very difficult and people tend to be a bit unrealistic about their expectations of themselves and  probably a bit over-optimistic as the year turns around. I wonder if the supported research environment contributed to that big 40%?

Given that it is natural for humans to want to make new beginnings at times that feel perfect for fresh starts, how can we do so without letting ourselves down?

Step One: Keep it real:

Most of us would like to be someone else or even just a thinner, fitter, smarter, more successful version of ourselves. It is true though that big change can only be achieved one step at a time – and those steps usually  need to be small ones. It’s so frustrating!

Opting for realistic goals is the first step to making resolutions that we  have a chance of keeping.

Step Two: Make a firm plan.

So many of us indulge in wishful thinking when it comes to achieving goals or changing behaviour. You need a plan, and not just a loose plan. You need to think about how you are going to make the change, identify the barriers that are going to and work out, in advance, how to overcome them.

There’s a section of the myCompass program about setting smart goals – that might be a good place to start.

Step 3: Keep trying

If things go pear-shaped in the first week of January, remember that the following Monday is the beginning of a new week and the 1st of February is not far away. There’s always another opportunity for a new beginning. And next time you will be better prepared for the things that get in the way.

So Happy New Year everyone!

Hoping the New Year brings some of the positive change you desire.