Is it the Champagne that fills our heads with lofty goals each year end? Or are we really serious when we make yet another New Year resolution? Judging from statistics, we are not kidding. Some say tradition and cultural conditioning are responsible for unmet New Year resolutions, but I think our psychological makeup might be the real driving force at hand. Our brains are hard wired each New Year to wipe the slate clean and start life anew. For the next 365/6 days, promise fills the air and breathes new life into our goals, fuelling our willpower.

We become obsessed with self-improvement. It’s a wind of change that lasts just long enough for us to face our first obstacle, usually within the first month of goal setting, and without a plan B, our resolutions have little chance of surviving.

The Psychology of New Year Resolutions

So why do we make them? New Year resolutions have such a high failure rate that it’s remarkable that we still pursue them with vigour and hope for the future.

If we want a fighting chance of making our resolutions stick for this New Year, understanding the psychology of why we make them in the first place is a good place to start. Consider these three overwhelming premises for our need to create personal change:

  1. Need for self-improvement. If you think about it, we are never completely satisfied with who we are. We are in constant search for that missing element to make our lives complete. As we learn more and collect new ideas, we try to apply these by making improvements to our lives. This desire to be our better selves is most opportune at the start of a brand New Year.
  2. Tradition and cultural conditioning. The practice of New Year’s resolution has religious roots partially developed from Lenten sacrifices. Babylonians were also known to make promises to their gods in preparation for each New Year. Today, New Year’s Eve comes at a billion dollar commercial price. It is an industry dedicated to making us skinnier, prettier, wealthier, and better every New Year.
  3. Humans are hopeful optimists. Humans seem predisposed to hold optimistic thoughts of the future simply because it feels better. It’s the reason why death, the final stage in the life-cycle, is never given the priority it deserves, or why we become over-exuberant about good things coming our way and underestimate the possibility of setbacks. It’s also the same reason why we create a list of new resolutions every year, even though we may have failed in the past.

Helpful Tips to Make your Resolutions Work

Yet, we still have hope, so here are some helpful tips to help improve your chances to sticking with your resolutions for 2016:

2016 New Year

1. Declare Your Resolutions to Family and Friends

This advice is the bedrock of behaviour-change programs because you are not doing it alone. Helpful buddies are support systems to pick you up when you stumble. Choose at least one accountability buddy, someone close to you, to report your progress.

Goals that involve diet, exercise, or financial plans often require incremental steps that are easier to track and report. For example, a diet plan may involve daily preparations for low-carb meals, a fitness program may include 30 minutes of cardio per day, and a savings plan may involve a reserve of 10 percent of income per month.

2. Act Like the Person You Want to Become

Each New Year, people approach their goals with the same set of behaviours that produced negative results. This New Year, try to focus on new behaviours and thought patterns to create new neural pathways in your brain, responsible for changing habits.

An effective way to do this is to act like the person you want to become. For example: visualise yourself at the weight you want to be and feel comfortable in your own skin, choose to be around people who exhibit positive behaviour and adopt their patterns of success, or quit smoking by loathing the very act of lighting up.

3. Break It Up Into Smaller Goals

Much like check marks towards your main goal, smaller goals help you stay committed. Many people quit because a goal seems too big and the effort, too great. Creating a daily “to do” list is a useful way to reach your goal with each accomplishment acting as its own reward system, pushing you closer to the prize.

Use your list to also take corrective action when an illness, low motivation, or personal problems derail the day’s target.

4. Set Realistic Goals One at a Time

A realistic goal is one you know you can achieve. For example: Deciding you want to lose weight is not a realistic goal until it is defined, such as: “I want to lose five pounds in four weeks”. The problem with setting realistic goals is that many of us are not taught how to set an effective goal. Realistic goals are well defined: specific, achievable, measurable, and time-limited.

On New Year’s Eve, never set goals you think you “should”, otherwise you will get discouraged. Instead, set goals that will make a real positive impact to your life, then resolve to never giving up, even when you hit setbacks.