How to make the most of your new-year resolutions

There’s nothing like the feeling of a fresh start. People love their new-year’s resolutions (although I don’t love having to wait for a treadmill). According to a Dec. 21, 2020, article, people have been making them, and breaking them, for roughly 4,000 years. 

As I’ve grown older and more cognizant of patterns, I was determined to stay away from the cycle of unattainable goals and eventual disappointment. But, try as I might, I still wanted to harness that new-year energy to develop some better habits in my day-to-day life. So, I set out to find ways to make my resolutions stick. 

It turns out human psychology can benefit from what we posit as a new beginning. According to a January 2022 article by David Robson, our brains tend to frame our life as a narrative. 

So, anything that feels like a division, or the beginning of a new chapter creates a “psychological distance from past failures.” This could help explain why even the beginning of a new week, or month can re-energize our motivations towards our goals. 

It turns out our brains can hardly help seizing the motivation of new seasons. The question remained for me: how do I prolong and maintain that sudden drive to turn over a new leaf?

As a lover of words, I know with experience that they have the power to shape much of our perspective. So I wasn’t surprised to find that how we frame our goals significantly impacts our ability to achieve them. 

According to a Dec. 9, 2020, research article by Per Carlbring in PLOOS ONE, “approach-oriented goals” are more successful than “avoidance-oriented goals.” 

Approach-oriented goals focused on language that added something to that participant’s day, whereas avoidance-oriented goals used language that involved cutting something out. The results showed “On average, the participants were about 25% more likely to meet their approach goals than the avoidance goals,” Robson said.

I have begun to integrate this knowledge into my new routine and enjoy achieving my goals with the added flexibility of getting to do something, as opposed to the anxiety-inducing way of needing to stop doing something in my life. 

I will list various examples of how to reimagine your goals from the typical avoidance-oriented language to the more helpful approach-oriented framing of thoughts.

If your intention is to focus on physical wellness, instead of saying I will not drink sugary drinks, or I will avoid sitting a prolonged amount of time on the couch, say I will drink eight glasses of water a day or I will walk 10,000 steps a day. 

If you are attempting mental, or social wellness goals the same transformations can apply. Instead of saying you will not spend time online shopping or watching copious YouTube videos, say I will call a friend when I am bored, or I will read a news article. This will add something positive to your day, offsetting the impacts of too much social media, etc. 

This process of switching actions from the negative to the positive will begin to displace bad habits without making our brains bristle at the notion of restriction. 

As humans, our productivity will ebb and flow but it will never impact our worth. Embrace self-compassion and enjoy your fresh start.