A Guide to New Year's Resolutions: How to Make Them, How to Keep Them
Ancient Babylonians were the first to hold recorded celebrations around 4000 years ago and are thought to be the first people to make new year's resolutions. Although back then, they celebrated in march by planting new crops and reaffirming their loyalty to the reigning king. They made promises to the gods to pay their debt and return any objects they may have borrowed.
The Babylonians were incentivized to keep their word for the belief that the gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. Should they fail, they would fall out of favor with the gods.
Perhaps this ancient tradition is why we put so much pressure on ourselves to keep our resolutions… and why we feel so defeated if we can’t keep up with them.
The psychology of resolutions
The data we have regarding new year's resolutions suggests that we are terrible at keeping them. Fewer than 10% of adults keep their resolutions for more than a few months.
New research by Kaitlin Wooley (Cornell University) and Ayelet Fishbach (University of Chicago) gives us some insight into the most common types of resolutions adults make:
- Exercise: 31.3%
- Eat Healthy 10.4%
- Have healthier habits: 13.5%
- Save money 20.8%
- Get out of debt 12.5%
- Get organized 1.0%
- Learn something new >1.0%
- Spend time with family: 2.1%
- Help others: >1.0%
- Enjoy life: 3.1%
Participants in the study believed that both importance and enjoyment we’re required for successfully keeping their resolutions. However, the researchers found that only enjoyment predicted long-term persistence.
To put it simply, tasks are easier to do when they are enjoyable! Seems obvious, right? Unfortunately, most of us get too caught up in why we should do something rather than why we want to do it. This is why we’ve created a step by step guide to help you set sustainable and realistic goals for 2021. We’ve even included a downloadable template to make it even easier!
Step 1: The Resolution
What is your goal? It doesn’t have to be too specific. Start simple and use the following steps to break it down.
Step 2: Why
Why are you setting this resolution?
Take this step to reflect on why you want to set this goal. Why is this goal important to me? Is this a goal that I am setting to benefit myself or for the benefit of someone else? While you ask yourself these questions, avoid judging yourself. Being honest in your intent will help shape your goal realistically.
Step 3: What
What do I need to achieve this goal?
For example, if your goal is to start working out, ask yourself:
Do I have access to fitness facilities?
What type of exercise do I enjoy?
How much do I want to spend each month on fitness?
How much time can I realistically dedicate to this?
Step 4: How?
Now it’s time to get specific. Does your schedule need to change? Will you enlist a friend to help hold you accountable to your goal? Being detailed in your approach can make your goal seem less daunting.
Train your brain
Every time we recognize that a task has been completed, our brain releases a load of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for generating feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, and happiness. You can train your brain to feed off of bursts of dopamine sparked by rewarding experiences. Realistically, you won’t be able to go from not exercising at all to hitting the gym 5 times a week. Instead, set a target you know you can hit. Not only will that dopamine release make you feel great, but it will also motivate you to continue completing tasks to extend that pleasant feeling
Be kind to yourself
Life happens. Busy schedules, bad days, a global pandemic. There will always be bumps along the way that stop us from getting where we want to be. Though you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you react. Avoid seeing setbacks as failures. Focus on learning from your mistakes, re-adjusting, and trying again.
Ready to set some resolutions? Download the blank resolution template below to get started!