New Years resolutions – making and sticking to them!

I am not one to usually make New Years Resolutions.

Or at least, I never used to be.

Until Now…

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It is estimated that about 41 percent of the United States usually make New Year resolutions while 42 percent never make them!

An even more astonishing figure is that according to a 2007 study carried out by the University of Bristol, an overwhelming 88 per cent of those who set New Year resolutions fail to achieve their goals! This is in spite of the fact that 52 per cent of participants were actually confident of success when they made their resolutions in the first place. So why is this statistic so astronomically high? Could it be that people are being too unrealistic with the goals they set or that they simply try to achieve far too many resolutions at once?

New Year’s resolutions are like babies – fun to make, difficult to maintain’

Muiris Houston

Award-winning medical journalist and health analyst 

The waters become even more muddied once its taken into account how much more difficult it can be to achieve your goals when mental illness and all of its variants are thrown into the mix. Interestingly, according to Psychology Today, ‘depressed people were more likely to set goals centered around avoidance—such as not smoking, not losing one’s temper, or spending less money’, whereas ‘people without depression were more likely to set positive goals’.

It’s easy enough to tell yourself to ‘stop’ doing something; it’s more difficult ti find out what to do with your time instead!

Of course, to the more neurotic among us, this essentially means that while we are making goals that aspire to better ourselves as individuals, the lack of a replacement for these bad habits can conjure up more issues than we may first anticipate. For example, it is all good and well to say that you are going to give up smoking as your new years revolution, but it’s going to a hard ride if you’ve not thought ahead about how exactly you’re going to do it.

So what separates those with some form of mental illness from the rest of the population? Namely it is a disparity between our motivation and energy to do so. There also seems to be a severe lack of clarity in regards to how to actually go about reaching our goals; it’s easy enough to make vague promises of change after a few drinks, but a lot harder the next morning when you wake up and wonder just where on earth to start first!

Breaking it down, one step at a time



However, lets inject some much needed optimism into the debate. According to Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit and Professor of Behavioural Addiction, people make New Year’s resolutions are ten times more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t! So that’s one major motivation to set your personal goals around the start of the year!

In addition to this, with the increase in social media activity because of people’s desire to share their goals with their friends and family, it actually enhances the chances of being successful in achieving your goals! According to Neil Farber, Professor of Psychology, 75 percent of those who achieved their New Year’s resolutions felt that sharing their goals actually helped them succeed in sticking to them in the long run.

Additionally, not only does doing this act as a form of safety net by sharing your goals with your friends and family, but it also ensures that you’ll be receiving plenty of encouragement . As well as being held accountable if they do catch you going out for a sneaky cigarette or having one pint too many down at the pub!

“In a way, habits are a short-cut […] you don’t have to wonder whether you want coffee today, you just make it.”

Wendy Wood

Professor of psychology and business 

However, this step is all for naught if your goals are not SMART in the first place; this means that they need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time limited. For instance my attempt at this is the following:

Specific – I want to go for a run three times a week, for at least half an hour each time.

Measurable – Either I achieve running for 30 minutes or I do not. Depending on my level of success I can adjust this accordingly.

Achievable -Only committing to running a few times a week means that I have four days completely freed up to pursue other goals.

Realistic – While I am busy with other things going on in my life, dedicating half an hour aside is practical in my opinion.

Time limited – I would like to achieve this within a fortnight’s time.

More importantly, these goals need to be of significant personal value to you. For example it would be pointless for me to aim to be a professional body builder, as while being in good physical condition is good for my mental health I have no real innate desire to push myself to those kind of limits.

In fact, according to Val Curtis, a behavior change expert at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,‘humans can do just about all of our behavior without consciousness’, so much so that ‘we’re able to do almost everything we do every day on autopilot’. What this means is that we have to make more of a conscious effort to what we do and when we do it, specifically by paying attention to the environment we tend to do them in, whether that is at home, in the local bar, at or any other venue you can think of.

It is also important to note that this behaviour needs to transcend the conventional thought process of it simply being ‘Doing *insert bad habit here* has always been a bad habit and I do it everyday anyway’. The fact is that you’ve become numb to the idea of something being a bad habit, so following this thought process is ineffectual at best! Which leads me on to the following; make sure the goals you set are positive, small and things you can succeed at in rapid succession, as highlighted by my example above.

Lastly, ensure that you do reward yourself for your efforts, regardless of how minuscule they might appear to you. According to Wendy Wood, a provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California , ‘this reward needs to be immediate’ and something that ‘makes the behaviour fun’. For instance if you succeed at a goal, spend some time watching your favourite show on Netflix rather than booking a flight to go to an ideal holiday destination which delays that well deserved moment of instant gratification.


Final Words

All in all, it is important that you don’t let your new Year resolutions become a dissolution of who you are. You can be the person you want to be and do what you want to do.

You just have to do it one step at a time, and jump back on your feet when life knocks you down. Again and again and again.

After a while such positive behaviour does indeed become habitual, so that going for that morning jog or declining that pint of beer at a house party becomes as easy as it is to brush your teeth or to tie your shoe laces.

So am I having a rethink about my own New Years resolutions? Well, I think it’s safe to say that, in light of this accumulated knowledge, my mind might have just been swayed…

Did you know?


Emotional support helplines:

Samaritans :116 123

Rethink Mental Illness advice line 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 09:30-16:00; local rate)

Sane Line:0845 767 8000

Mind also has a useful guide of support and services, which can be found by clicking the link right here

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