Youth Education

Making resolutions work

As the year end approaches, we can’t help ourselves making well-intentioned promises — from next year, I will start working out. I will complete my projects within stipulated deadlines January onwards. I will send out my resume to different companies next year. Even though the calendar year does not discernibly change student or working lives, the beginning of a new year is imbued with psychological significance for many of us because we tend to associate newness with change and positivity. Yet, often, our noble plans tend to fall apart often within a fortnight of the coming year. Why are New Year’s resolutions so hard to stick to and what can we do differently to carry them through the year?

According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, New Year’s resolutions are “riddled with psychological traps that work against us.” In her book, Presence: Brining your boldest self to your biggest challenges, she explains that the promises we make to ourselves are often too ambitious. We may tell ourselves that we will shed five kilos in the next six months. But, when the scale does not budge from our current weight at the end of January, we feel disappointed and give up altogether on our diet and exercise regimen. Likewise, we may swear not to shout at our recalcitrant teenaged kids any more. But when we see their clothes lying on the bedroom floor for the nth time, out patience wears thin. Such lofty goals are bound to fail, says Cuddy, because they require us to make many minuscule changes consistently over a long period of time.

Another reason why such promises betray us is that they tend to be “results-oriented.” Cuddy argues that we are more likely to follow through on our pledges when we focus on the process instead of the outcome. So, instead of committing to losing five kilos, we may say that we will work out at least four days a week and limit our consumption of forbidden food to once a week. Thus, by not obsessing with the outcome, we are more likely to come closer to our goal.

In an article in Forbes , published in January 2016, entrepreneur William Vanderbloemen suggests that we refrain from making resolutions for the entire year. As a year can seem like a long duration, our motivation to stick with a task often peters out. However, if we tell ourselves that we will not shout at the kids for a week, we are more likely to experience success. Then, at the end of the week, we can decide whether we want to extend our pledge yet another week. As we get better at controlling our temper, we can extend the duration of our promise. Having short-term objectives allows us to tweak them based on current circumstances. So, if you know that you have a stressful week coming up at work, you may give yourself a week off without feeling like you haven’t lived up to your expectations.

Next, Vanderbloemen urges us to keep our resolutions specific and simple. If you tell yourself that you will meet the deadlines set by your boss for multiple projects that you are handling, you may be overstretching yourself and may feel overwhelmed.

Instead, by just resolving to meet the next deadline, you are more likely to meet your goal. Further, writing down your goals helps sticking to them. Penning your resolutions and sticking them up on the fridge or bathroom mirror can serve as a daily reminder. Enlisting the help of a friend, family member or colleague can also motivate you to keep your resolution. Joining an online support group where you can share your struggles and read about others who are trying to beat the odds can also spur you to stay on target.

We also have to give ourselves room for failure and be forgiving of our slip-ups. Professor John Norcross has tracked New Year’s resolvers for two years to better understand their behaviour. While 77 per cent of people were able to keep their vows for a week, only 19 per cent were able to sustain their resolve over the two-year period. In an article published in the Journal of Substance Abuse , Professor Norcross and his colleague found that over 50 per cent of successful resolvers have at least one slip, with a mean of 14 slips in a two-year period. So, don’t be too harsh on yourself if you get tempted by that chocolate brownie or down a beer when you are feeling low. Knowing that failing now and then is part of the process can keep you motivated to continue your diet or abstain from alcohol. Instead of aiming for perfection, factor in a loss of will-power on a few occasions.

The writer is Director, PRAYATNA. Email: arunasankara@gmail.com


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 25, 2022 5:29:40 am | https://www.thehindu.com/education/Making-resolutions-work/article16938169.ece