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The Psychology of New Year’s Resolutions: What to do differently this year

As the New Year is approaching, planning what to do that night has started, while the reservations of many fancy places are all booked up already. The big 2023! The countdown, the presents, the chilly weather, Christmas songs and movies, gathering together with loved ones, cinnamon-related everything… We remember New Year as a joyful occasion; at least, most of us do. And we should. Celebrating the entry to another year in our lives should be a joyous occasion. It is like a global birthday celebration for everyone.

However, we do also have an inevitable urge to set some, in many cases very high, expectations for ourselves: The New Year’s Resolutions! Just a reminder, you do not have to learn three languages and two instruments and visit six places abroad while exercising every day until the end of 2023. New Year is a fresh start; taking advantage of it is not bad. Goal setting is essential to the extent that they are realistic and fit into your standards, so you do not need to reshape yourself to fit them. As for many common human experiences, psychology also has a say in New Year’s resolutions. Here is more on the psychology of New Year’s resolutions with tips and tricks on planning next year’s resolutions from someone - an expert. That would be me. Just kidding.

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University in New York City, suggests that "We tend to set resolutions because the New Year serves as a cyclical marker of time during which we reevaluate and take inventory of our lives”. With the same mentality of starting a new life reformation on a Monday, the start of the week, we tend to look for a start day that holds much more considerable significance for bigger goals that we may be favouring to procrastinate for a while too. Monday is too near; New Year’s is far away. Our hope is replenished for a much longer run now; we are motivated. For a while, at least.

It would differ according to the destination if we were to talk about keeping up with these goals. Quitting smoking and trying to listen to a new album each week does not require the same level of effort to put in. Kaitlin Woolley from Cornell University and Ayelet Fishbach from the University of Chicago published research investigating New Year Resolutions. The study has suggested that 55.2% of resolutions were health-related. Exercising, having healthier habits, etc., are at the top of the resolutions for many people since the drastic shift in daily habits in modern society, especially during and after COVID-19.

So why do we fail? Why do we lose this motivation so quickly if we start off so motivated? Sabrina Romanoff continues, “We often fail in achieving and keeping them because they focus on a specific outcome”. In proportion with our goals, our expectations for immediate outcomes increase. People have difficulty focusing on their efforts along the way, even if they are “little”, being so focused on the outcome. Not evaluating and weighing our past experiences and to what extent we can handle a process, a journey to drastic consequences leads to us relapsing every year.

Research has recently recorded that 91 percent completely give up their resolution goals by January 19th (Alcee 2022). That is a considerable number, but in the meantime, not so surprising. So, what do we have to do to lower that number? How can we stick to these resolutions, at least to a couple of them?

The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge our capacity. What we can do is limited, and everybody has different limits. It is not a weakness. Knowing your limits and thriving while challenging yourself is the strength in this case. We need to focus more on the journey to development than the development itself to appreciate and get to know ourselves better. Setting small goals along the way to the big goal will make it easier for us to stay motivated. Focus on the frequency more than putting in the most effort you can at one time. It has been proven many times that when a high level of habitualness has been reached, it is much more difficult to throw off these habits and resolutions.

Ask yourself questions such as “what motivates me to pursue this goal?” and “what are the obstacles I face that prevent me from achieving this goal?” Try not to demotivate yourself with the answers. Use them as drives. Try to be intrinsically motivated because if we were to start talking about the psychological background of motivation, the first statement any psychologist would say to you would be that intrinsic motivation sticks the longest.

So this year, try not to overwhelm yourself while setting your goals. Remember that you can always start something new on the 2nd of January, or the 3rd, or the 4th, and so on. The human experience provides many opportunities for us to feel inferior or unproductive; thus, adding more to this will be the worst resolution we will ever make. My new resolution advice is not to embrace the “toxic growth mentality”. Learn to accept yourself with your weaknesses and be proud of your progress.

Works Cited

Alcee, Micheal. "How to Not Screw Up Your New Year's Resolutions." Psychology Today, 4 Dec. 2022, Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.

Konstantinovsky, Michelle. "The Psychology Behind New Year's Resolutions." WebMD, 3 Jan. 2022, crack open a new,says psychologist Mariana Strongin%2C PsyD. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.

Persaud, Raj, and Peter Bruggen. "Psychology Explains New Year Resolutions, Hits and Misses." Psychology Today, 31 Dec. 2017, Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.

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