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Fresno State Psych Professor Offers 10 Tips for Effective New Year’s Resolutions
Opinion
By Opinion
Published 4 months ago on
December 21, 2023

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One of my favorite holidays is New Year’s Eve. It’s an excellent time to reflect upon the past 12 months and transition with optimism for the coming year.

Martin Shapiro

Opinion

So, inevitably, many of us make New Year’s resolutions to mark this transition filled with all the ways we wish to improve our lives and all the wonderful things we’ll achieve in 2024.

According to a recent New Year’s resolutions poll by Forbes-Health, about 48% of those surveyed want to improve fitness, 38% want to improve finances, 36% want to improve mental health and 34% want to lose weight.

Psychologists have been studying New Year’s resolutions for some time, so let me summarize just a few things they’ve found.

First, while a study in science journal plos.org, found that New Year’s resolutions can have a lasting positive impact on a person’s life, many others have found that, for the most part, New Year’s resolutions tend to be pretty poor ways to improve or change behaviors.

According to a Washington Post report, about 80% of our resolutions are abandoned by the middle of February. Our mind is not set up for achieving these long-term goals. Humans are impulsive by nature in that we are highly focused on our behaviors in the short term and devalue the consequences or rewards of events that happen in the distant future.

This tendency makes it difficult for us to save for retirement or change our behavior today to have a livable planet in 100 years. We also tend to be self-deceptive and overestimate our success in achieving our goals, a view shared by an article in The Atlantic.

Setting Up for Failure?

Such behavior can get us into trouble in various ways.

For example, buying expensive exercise equipment at the beginning of the year, which ultimately become clothes hangers by February.

Or starting fad diets where we eat only cabbage soup or eat like a Neanderthal (Paleo diet) so we can lose weight quickly, an act that can be very unhealthy. As the National Institutes of Health notes, when one loses weight at a fast pace, the body thinks you are starving and will change your resting metabolism and cravings for food, causing you to end up heavier than you started.

There is also the problem of trying to change critical aspects of our behavior and thought processes, for example, dealing with addiction or depression, by making a New Year’s resolution instead of seeking treatment from professionals.

Resolving to Have Successful Resolutions

That said, here are 10 suggestions for making effective New Year’s resolutions.

  1. Pick New Year’s resolutions that bring joy and reduce stress, such as adding an exercise routine, learning a new hobby, reconnecting with an old friend, or volunteering.
  2. Set daily or weekly goals, not annual goals. Lean into your impulsivity. “Today, I’m going to go for a 30-minute walk and have an apple instead of a doughnut for breakfast.”
  3. Focus on continuing the things you liked about your behavior from 2023 and less on changing everything you dislike. Accentuate the positive.
  4. Do not abandon your desire to maintain a positive behavior because you slipped up. So, understand that mistakes happen and return to the preferred behavior quickly.
  5. Be happier with your weight, which is significantly influenced by your genes. But if you want to lose a few pounds, do it slowly – no more than a pound a week, according to NIH.
  6. Do not change anything about your diet that you don’t plan to make a stable part of your eating habits. If you do not want to eat like a Neanderthal for the rest of your life, do not do the paleo diet. Make small, reasonable changes, such as limiting high-fructose soft drinks to special occasions.
  7. Do your best to focus on achievements rather than failures. If your New Year’s resolution is to finish the Two Cities Marathon next November, but you ended up jogging with friends on weekends and doing a 5-K fun run – that is great!
  8. Revisit and revise your revolutions often, keeping you attending to your goals. At the beginning of the year, set some notifications on your Google calendar to remind you to review your goals.
  9. Work with others. People who get support and give support to others tend to stick with their resolutions better than those who go it alone.
  10. Make your New Year’s resolutions low-stakes and fun. Don’t rely on them to significantly change your life.

About the Author

Dr. Martin Shapiro is a psychology professor at Fresno State who teaches courses in motivation and neuroscience. He is also the author of two psychology textbooks. This column originally appeared at fresnostatenews.com.

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