Why It’s So Hard to Keep a New Year’s Resolution and the Best Strategies to Keeping Them

Amongst many of the festivities that go along with ringing in the new year, one that seemingly always gets discussed is your new year’s resolution. As soon as the ball drops in Times Square, all of a sudden, for a brief moment, there’s an immense amount of pressure to make this year somehow better than the last. More exciting, more fun, more successful...whatever the case may be, resolutions involve us putting pressure on ourselves to meet this insurmountable goal of making this year even better than the last. 

So, if we spend the time to make new goals for ourselves, why is it so hard to follow through? For example, my new year’s resolution for 2018 was to exercise once every day for an hour. And, unsurprisingly, I kept this new routine up for about a week and a half. But, when it comes to new year’s resolutions this is something we see all the time. 

According to a study done by U.S. News in 2015, 80% of people who make new year’s resolutions abandon them by February. Psychologist, author, and professor, Bobby Hoffman, surmises that we often fail at our new year’s resolutions because it is human nature to sustain high levels of performance for only short periods of time. He explains that the body is regulated by a process called homeostasis, which means “that when we are hungry we eat, when we are tired we rest, and when we are cold we seek warmth.” During periods of high activity, our body becomes depleted and needs time and energy for homeostasis to restore. And, our mind, like our body, can also be subject to homeostatic depletion.

Think about how you feel after taking a long exam. Oftentimes, even though you have exerted no physical energy, you feel tired and this is because your brain is tired from focusing on one task for such a long period of time. Hoffman explains that when our brain gets tired and we need time for homeostatic regeneration, we come to a decision-making threshold where we decide to “either power on, change goals, and even give up despite our best reform intentions.” This is often the point where most resolutions fail, because it is human nature to seek optimal mental comfort, so to speak. So, if we think that we would be more comfortable not going to the gym than making an effort to go every day, we often choose what would make us more comfortable, rather than what we had originally set out to accomplish. 

New Year’s resolutions are also difficult to accomplish because often times we are not setting realistic goals for ourselves to achieve at the start. If our resolutions are too lofty or unrealistic for our lifestyles, then chances are, we won’t be able to keep up with them for very long. Hoffman explains that humans, by design, are not very good at practicing self-control. So, while we may know that it takes time to break a habit (in this case the habit we would want to break would be not exercising), we don’t often have the amount of self-control required to make something unfamiliar and uncomfortable feel like routine.

Hoffman suggest that some of the best strategies for keeping new year’s resolutions are to have a detailed plan of how you are going to get to where you want to be. Then he suggests setting realistic targets. Setting targets helps us feel a sense of accomplishment every time one is reached, which in turn helps to keep our motivation high to take us all the way to our end goal. Next, Hoffman suggests finding some kind of support system that will help you reach your goal. Support from others also helps to increase motivation, thus increasing the chances that you will stick to it. And finally, Hoffman explains the success comes when you are able to recognize that failure is part of the process. If you get off track on the way to reaching your goal, don’t throw in the towel. Keep going and keep moving forward! 

With this in mind, hopefully your 2019 will, in fact, be better than the last. Happy New Year!