How useful are New Year's resolutions to generate real change?

It seems customary to ring in the New Year with a new resolution, but does it actually help us? We take a look at the age old tradition of New Year’s Resolutions and what change we can make from them. 

After the celebrations over Christmas and the end of the year, the new year can appears as a chance to start afresh. Many mark the occasion by setting a resolution; something they want to change or achieve in the new year. But why do we wait for ta new year to make a change? And by setting a resolution, does it actually work?

Research has shown resolutions unfortunately don’t hold much sway. While it’s great to set a goal, or to define an area to change, when it’s in the form of a New Year’s resolution, the pressure can be too great. By the middle of the year, that resolution has fallen by the wayside for over half of us . Often resolutions are too vague, too broad, and too big. 

But that doesn’t mean we should do away with resolutions entirely. It can be healthy to set intentions, and to try and work toward personal goals. Having a goal in life can help motivate us, keep us focused, and provide a sense of purpose. When wanting to make changes however, it’s important to approach it in a balanced way. 

While nearly half of people studied couldn’t keep up with their resolutions, there were some who, by the six-month mark were going strong and were on track to achieve their goals.

Real change generally requires a few key ingredients: 

1.  Readiness to Change

Sometimes you can have an idea to change, but you might not be in the right headspace to take action. It was observed that people tend to go through different stages in their journey to change; from pre-contemplation (“Do I need to change?”) through to action (“I’m ready to make a change”). 

Before you set yourself a resolution, reflect on where you are in your change journey. While you may want to set that resolution, are you ready to take the next step? If you’re not really ready, that’s ok! Write it down, and work towards getting ready. Don’t take the plunge if you’re not truly in the right headspace, as the goal doesn’t tend to get achieved. 

2.  Realistic and Achievable Goals

This is where people often fall down in their resolutions. The goals may be lofty with no real timeframe other than ‘this year’. To help shift those resolutions into action, try to be specific about what it is you want to achieve. Look at what you can realistically achieve, and be honest with yourself about what you can take on, and when you can achieve it by. There’s nothing wrong with going slow with our resolutions!

3.  Small Steps

Resolutions are not a sprint race, they are more like a marathon. If you go too hard, too fast, without any real direction you can fizzle out fast. It’s great to take your resolution, and break it down into small, manageable steps.
person lifting dumbells

4.  Do away with the ‘musts’

Too often resolutions are set in absolutes, it becomes this ‘all or nothing’ quest to achieve the sometimes impossible. When we put a ‘should’ or a ‘must’ in front of something, we’re often setting ourselves up for failure. Instead of being so absolute, replace the ‘must’ with a ‘try’. When we try, we tend to achieve more, and it allows us more time to reach a full achievement of a goal. 

5.  Switch it to a positive

Often New Year’s resolutions deal in negatives; the things that people don’t like about themselves or feel they need to change. When we’re framed in such a way, it can make achieving that resolution just that bit tougher. Try to re-frame in a positive way. 

6.  Support

It’s really important to have support when we set out to tackle a resolution. Who can be your cheer squad? Who can help keep you on track? Who can give you that dose of reality when you need it? Talking out your goals and ideas can really help shape where you head with them, and ensure you’re making achievable plans. 

To take the pressure off yourself, why not set a goal a little after the excitement of new year’s celebrations? Take the start of the year as a time to reflect on where you would like to head, and give yourself a month to plan out your goal. Then review your progress toward that goal in a week, then a month, three months and six months. It’s all about doing what works for you, in a way that you’ll be able to achieve successful change throughout the year!
Back to top