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Health Report: The psychology of New Years resolutions and why they fail

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 5:20 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - People across the world make New Years resolutions every year, but most of those resolutions will fail.

Why do most resolutions fail? One answer can be explained through examining the psychology of a New Years resolution.

Why do people feel compelled to make resolutions in the first place?

“There are these temporal landmarks that happen in our lives. So that would be birthdays, definitely the start of a new year, even just Monday at the beginning of a week. It is a natural marking of the passage of time that allows us to look at the past, reflect, see how things are going, maybe some things we want to change. And also look to the future, and decide if there’s anything that we want to change as we move forward,” said Sarah Jensen, Counselor with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Student Health and Counseling.

Part of the problem stems from people not making either realistic or clear goals for themselves.

“I think oftentimes why they don’t stick is sometimes we have set too many goals. Sometimes our goals are unclear. Maybe the goals that we set are unrealistic, unachievable. Some other things, there can be feelings of discouragement once you start trying to accomplish goals. Ultimately is it the right time for change? And so, as we kind of evaluate goal setting, there’s ways to make that more successful,” commented Stacy Schmitt, Associate Director for Counseling at UAF Student Health and Counseling.

Making small, incremental, achievable steps is key to keeping to a goal.

Another difficulty people face is how they react when something goes wrong with their goal.

“When you are working toward those goals, and you think maybe you’re not making as much progress as you should be, you’re not going as quickly, you can get down on yourself. And then in comes this harsh, self critical, judgement voice that actually does the opposite of what you’re hoping. You’re hoping that with that criticism, you’ll kind of kick yourself into gear and motivate yourself to get back into it. But what’s been found, is actually a voice of self compassion and of understanding, and caring and kindness, will actually help to set yourself up to trying again,” said Jensen.

The real key to keeping to a resolution is a change of mindset to help break bad behaviors.

“Being able to change a behavior, it takes a change of thought. And so really kind of evaluating what you want to change in your life and how important that is to you. And then taking those steps towards making those changes to create that happiness. Along with being self compassionate, resilient, adaptable, and flexible with those goals that are set. Knowing that we may make mistakes, we may not make that goal for that particular day. But being able to change that up and be flexible and adaptable with ourselves,” commented Schmitt.

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