Most New Year’s resolutions are destined for failure. Yet there’s historical evidence to suggest the tradition of resolving to change in the year ahead is up to 4,000 years old – and, despite the gloomy statistics, modern society is no less committed to the self-improvement cause. But how can we make resolutions we’re more likely to realise? That’s the question RSNG put to clinical psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd, who revealed the following advice, and five key hacks, for making smarter, more achievable New Year’s resolutions...
What’s The Point In Resolutions? According to some statistics, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February, which begs a few questions, the first of which is: why do we bother? If the chances of failure are so high (something that even without statistical knowledge, personal experience can tell us) why do we persist? According to Dr Hibberd, it’s because the act of resolving to change, and the development path that then leads to, can be just as beneficial as the change itself.
‘Resolutions can be beneficial for both mental health and general wellbeing, as long as they're made in the right kind of way,’ she explains. ‘The key to good New Year’s resolutions is using them to celebrate your successes and basing them on what you hope to gain, rather than give up. By making resolutions, you're setting your intentions for the year ahead. These act as a map of where you'd like to head and carry you through the harder days giving you something to aim for and look forward to.
‘Working towards and reaching your goals is brilliant for confidence and self-esteem. They give you a sense of purpose and feeling of fulfilment, and when your mood is higher you're more likely to succeed at making changes in the other areas of your life that you wish to tackle.’
Relationships, and time for the things that matter to us, are what’s most important for happiness
Why Do Most Resolutions Fail? If making resolutions is about the benefits positive goal setting can bring, the other obvious question to answer is this: why do the majority of people fail to achieve them? For Dr Hibberd, the reasons are as follows: ‘Not thinking them through; making them about giving up, rather than thinking about what you will gain; not taking time to plan how you will achieve your goal; and trying to do something that doesn’t realistically fit with your life.’
For example, if, like [55% of people](http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/ayelet.fishbach/research/Woolley&FishbachPSPB.pdf, your resolution is health related, it should be achievable without necessitating a complete change of lifestyle – losing 10 stone, or becoming an elite athlete, could be tricky things to do within a year. Equally, your resolutions should be viewed as positive changes to strive for, rather than sacrifices you’re going to have to make. If your aim is to eat healthier, for example, think how much better you will feel and potentially look, as opposed to the food you will need to cut down on.
Hibberd advises that ‘Goals should be an addition to your life, rather than feel a burden. It’s important not to suffer in the pursuit of your goals, or feel they are some kind of test of your self-worth.’
Goals work best when their aim is to make a positive change – make sure they are not pass or fail
Know What To Avoid Making Resolutions About If you need to approach making a resolution with a positive, can-do mindset, then you also need to have an idea what areas of your life to focus on. For Hibberd, ‘It’s best to avoid goals that are about financial success, social recognition, and physical attractiveness.’ That’s because these areas tend to conflict with the positive approach needed; ‘They are negatively related to wellbeing,’ says Hibberd.
‘They’re also linked to increased anxiety, depression, narcissism and physical illness.’ The focus, she says, should be on emotional changes rather than superficial or material desires: ‘Relationships, and time for the things that matter to us, are what’s most important for health and happiness.’
Use These Hacks For Smarter New Year’s Resolutions
Make a positive change ‘Goals work best when their aim is to make a positive change. Keep them simple, ensure they are realistic and achievable, and make sure they are not pass or fail. Take time making them – if you make them too hastily they may only reflect how you were feeling at that time,’ says Hibberd.
Think about your values ‘Ensure they fit with your values: the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. The easiest way to think about this is to consider what matters most to you. What do you value in life, and what makes you feel good?’
Have a mix of goals ‘Include small, medium and big goals. If it's a bigger goal, break it down so that it's clear what you'll need to do to achieve it. Have some goals that are outward focused – charitable, community based or involving others – so it’s not all about you.’
Enjoy the adventure ‘Planning a goal should be like planning an adventure. It’s so important to enjoy the process, explore and gain from what you’re doing, learn and make mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you stop along the way or go off course – it’s about the adventure the goal takes you on, rather than the destination. If you're only focused on the end point then you won't gain the full benefits.’
Reserve the right to change your mind ‘Your goals don't need to be set in stone or last forever. I always reserve the right to change my mind! If it's not working or you don't like it, you can be pleased you tried it, but know it's not for you.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Dr Jessamy Hibberd’s TEDx Talk on the changes you can make to feel happier, more content, and live a daily life that fulfils you.
For more on Dr Jessamy Hibberd’s work visit her website