January 4, 2024
January 4, 2024

Beyond the Hype: The Truth About New Year's Resolutions

Diamond Thaxton, LMHC dispels common myths about New Year's resolutions and highlights effective strategies to help you make, and keep, realistic goals for a successful and mentally healthy new year.

by
Diamond Marie Thaxton, LMHC
Download Resource

It’s the beginning of the new year, and you know what that means: we are faced with creating our New Year’s resolutions. But hold on a second—do you ever feel like you're drowning in a sea of advertising, everyone vying for your attention, urging you to subscribe to their "new year, new you" products? It's enough to make your head spin! It can leave you feeling utterly perplexed, disheartened, and overwhelmed, pushing you further away from the essence and purpose of your New Year's resolutions.

On the bright side, good New Year's resolutions invite you to reflect on the past year. It's like conducting a personal performance review: a chance to applaud your triumphs, examine your missteps with kindness and wisdom, and transform those missteps into valuable learning experiences. Setting New Year's resolutions gives you a sense of purpose, direction, and renewed confidence.

As you begin planning your New Year’s resolutions, you can, perhaps, pen your dreams, declare your intentions, and set the stage for a year of success. But do you feel lost, or possibly panic-stricken, when you are planning to achieve these new resolutions? Do you feel like you’re walking a tightrope between wild aspirations and daunting expectations?

Well, we've taken care of some of the heavy lifting, allowing you to focus on your goals this year. We’ve uncovered and dispelled some common myths about habit formation while offering expert guidance on setting achievable goals, all rooted in solid science.

Here are your keys to success for the upcoming year:

Myth #1: When creating a new goal, you should tell everyone so they can help you hold yourself accountable.

Evidence: Research reveals that publicly announcing your goals makes you less likely to achieve them as doing so can actually create a premature sense of completeness.¹ However, accountability partners and support groups are instrumental to success for many people. The positive experience and connectedness with others reinforce your new habit, which more directly leads to happiness.²

Our Verdict: It’s best not to create social media posts about your New Year’s resolutions. But, revealing them to those who will be actively participating and supporting you along the way (i.e. an exercise partner, sober buddy, etc.) can significantly help you achieve your goals.

Myth #2: You only need 30 days to create a new habit, and then it becomes easy.

Evidence: The time it takes to transform your desired behavior into a habit depends on several factors. It depends on the level of effort required to establish the habit and whether the desired behavior was ever a pre-existing habit. So the time frame can vary, from as few as 18 days to six months or more.³

Our Verdict: Keep your eye on the prize! Rather than spending time thinking about the future of the new habit or waiting for it to become easier, just keep at it, taking it one day at a time. Enjoy the process; focus on your ultimate goals; and celebrate your successes, even the small ones, along the way.

Myth #3: Before beginning to work toward a new goal, you should go “Cold Turkey” on old bad habits.

Evidence: In some cases, stopping a behavior entirely can yield better results than making gradual changes. For example, quitting smoking tobacco falls in this category.4 Nevertheless, research has uncovered another potent strategy for success: substituting unhealthy habits with fresh, healthier alternatives. Surprisingly, the runner-up in this habit-forming race is the brain's ability to remain engaged in the new, healthy habit, even while occasionally backsliding into the old, less desirable one. This is because the brain allocates more of its precious resources to fortifying the emerging habit, gradually diverting its attention away from the old and towards the new.

Our Verdict: Depending on your goals, research the best approaches to attain them. As a rule of thumb, if your goal is to stop an old or bad habit, be sure to replace it with a new, healthier one.

Myth #4: Go big or go home!

Evidence: Following the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) guidelines for creating goals provides the highest success rate.5 Setting extremely ambitious goals can lead to unrealistic expectations and set you up for disappointment. When you set the bar too high, you're more likely to feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and unmotivated if you don't see immediate progress. This can ultimately lead to falling short of your goals.6

Our Verdict: Consider a more balanced and realistic approach to setting New Year's resolutions. Save that big energy for positive affirmations or self-pep talks before and during your efforts toward the goals you set for the new year. And remember: once you get close to your goal, you can always push further if you continue to stay motivated!

Myth #5: New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

Evidence: Some researchers suggest that only 9% of Americans who make resolutions actually go on to achieve them.7 Other studies have found that only 20% of Americans ever set goals for themselves in the first place, and only 30% of those who do will ultimately achieve them.8

Our Verdict: Your New Year’s resolutions should include goals you genuinely want or need to change. Many resolutions are made simply because it is tradition, without the conviction of a true goal. To encourage success, align your New Year’s resolutions with your deep aspirations and your vision of the future. Most important, remember that New Year's resolutions yield results when you put in consistent effort and make that change a priority. While this may pose challenges, success is within reach when you employ strategic methods.

The Bottom Line:

As you enter 2024, remember that your resolutions are a testament to your unique journey and aspirations. The power to transform your life and create lasting change lies within you. Embrace the opportunity to dream big while setting meaningful, achievable goals. Take the time to plan and do your research, and don’t hesitate to seek guidance from a life coach, counselor, or another mental health professional who can provide valuable support and guidance along the way.

References

  1. Gollwitzer, P. M., Sheeran, P., Michalski, V., & Seifert, A. E. (2009). When intentions go public: Does social reality widen the intention-behavior gap? Psychological Science, 20, 612-618.
  2. Stevens, C. J., Baldwin, A. S., Bryan, A. D., Conner, M., Rhodes, R. E., & Williams, D. M. (2020). Affective determinants of physical activity: A conceptual framework and narrative review. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.568331
  3. Lally P., van Jaarsveld C. H. M., Potts H. W. W., Wardle J. (2010). How are habits formed: modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 40 998–1009. 10.1002/ejsp.674
  4. Balamurugan, A. (2019). Quitting “Cold turkey”: Insights from the field on smoking cessation. Public Health Open Access, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.23880/phoa-16000148
  5. Ogbeiwi, O. (2017). Why written objectives need to be really smart. British Journal of Healthcare Management, 23(7), 324–336. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjhc.2017.23.7.324
  6. Drach-Zahavy, A., & Erez, M. (2002). Challenge versus threat effects on the goal–performance relationship. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 88(2), 667–682. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0749-5978(02)00004-3
  7. Norcross JC, Vangarelli DJ. The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. J Subst Abuse. 1988-1989;1(2):127-34. doi: 10.1016/s0899-3289(88)80016-6. PMID: 2980864.
  8. Vermeeren, D. (2007, September 12). Why people fail to achieve their goals. Reliable Plant. https://www.reliableplant.com/Read/8259/fail-achieve-goals

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to Counslr, Inc., its partners, its employees, or any other mental health professionals Counslr employs. You should review this information and any questions regarding your specific circumstances with a medical professional. The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as counseling, therapy, or professional medical advice.

January 4, 2024
January 4, 2024

Beyond the Hype: The Truth About New Year's Resolutions

by
Diamond Marie Thaxton, LMHC

Type your email to download

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

It’s the beginning of the new year, and you know what that means: we are faced with creating our New Year’s resolutions. But hold on a second—do you ever feel like you're drowning in a sea of advertising, everyone vying for your attention, urging you to subscribe to their "new year, new you" products? It's enough to make your head spin! It can leave you feeling utterly perplexed, disheartened, and overwhelmed, pushing you further away from the essence and purpose of your New Year's resolutions.

On the bright side, good New Year's resolutions invite you to reflect on the past year. It's like conducting a personal performance review: a chance to applaud your triumphs, examine your missteps with kindness and wisdom, and transform those missteps into valuable learning experiences. Setting New Year's resolutions gives you a sense of purpose, direction, and renewed confidence.

As you begin planning your New Year’s resolutions, you can, perhaps, pen your dreams, declare your intentions, and set the stage for a year of success. But do you feel lost, or possibly panic-stricken, when you are planning to achieve these new resolutions? Do you feel like you’re walking a tightrope between wild aspirations and daunting expectations?

Well, we've taken care of some of the heavy lifting, allowing you to focus on your goals this year. We’ve uncovered and dispelled some common myths about habit formation while offering expert guidance on setting achievable goals, all rooted in solid science.

Here are your keys to success for the upcoming year:

Myth #1: When creating a new goal, you should tell everyone so they can help you hold yourself accountable.

Evidence: Research reveals that publicly announcing your goals makes you less likely to achieve them as doing so can actually create a premature sense of completeness.¹ However, accountability partners and support groups are instrumental to success for many people. The positive experience and connectedness with others reinforce your new habit, which more directly leads to happiness.²

Our Verdict: It’s best not to create social media posts about your New Year’s resolutions. But, revealing them to those who will be actively participating and supporting you along the way (i.e. an exercise partner, sober buddy, etc.) can significantly help you achieve your goals.

Myth #2: You only need 30 days to create a new habit, and then it becomes easy.

Evidence: The time it takes to transform your desired behavior into a habit depends on several factors. It depends on the level of effort required to establish the habit and whether the desired behavior was ever a pre-existing habit. So the time frame can vary, from as few as 18 days to six months or more.³

Our Verdict: Keep your eye on the prize! Rather than spending time thinking about the future of the new habit or waiting for it to become easier, just keep at it, taking it one day at a time. Enjoy the process; focus on your ultimate goals; and celebrate your successes, even the small ones, along the way.

Myth #3: Before beginning to work toward a new goal, you should go “Cold Turkey” on old bad habits.

Evidence: In some cases, stopping a behavior entirely can yield better results than making gradual changes. For example, quitting smoking tobacco falls in this category.4 Nevertheless, research has uncovered another potent strategy for success: substituting unhealthy habits with fresh, healthier alternatives. Surprisingly, the runner-up in this habit-forming race is the brain's ability to remain engaged in the new, healthy habit, even while occasionally backsliding into the old, less desirable one. This is because the brain allocates more of its precious resources to fortifying the emerging habit, gradually diverting its attention away from the old and towards the new.

Our Verdict: Depending on your goals, research the best approaches to attain them. As a rule of thumb, if your goal is to stop an old or bad habit, be sure to replace it with a new, healthier one.

Myth #4: Go big or go home!

Evidence: Following the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) guidelines for creating goals provides the highest success rate.5 Setting extremely ambitious goals can lead to unrealistic expectations and set you up for disappointment. When you set the bar too high, you're more likely to feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and unmotivated if you don't see immediate progress. This can ultimately lead to falling short of your goals.6

Our Verdict: Consider a more balanced and realistic approach to setting New Year's resolutions. Save that big energy for positive affirmations or self-pep talks before and during your efforts toward the goals you set for the new year. And remember: once you get close to your goal, you can always push further if you continue to stay motivated!

Myth #5: New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

Evidence: Some researchers suggest that only 9% of Americans who make resolutions actually go on to achieve them.7 Other studies have found that only 20% of Americans ever set goals for themselves in the first place, and only 30% of those who do will ultimately achieve them.8

Our Verdict: Your New Year’s resolutions should include goals you genuinely want or need to change. Many resolutions are made simply because it is tradition, without the conviction of a true goal. To encourage success, align your New Year’s resolutions with your deep aspirations and your vision of the future. Most important, remember that New Year's resolutions yield results when you put in consistent effort and make that change a priority. While this may pose challenges, success is within reach when you employ strategic methods.

The Bottom Line:

As you enter 2024, remember that your resolutions are a testament to your unique journey and aspirations. The power to transform your life and create lasting change lies within you. Embrace the opportunity to dream big while setting meaningful, achievable goals. Take the time to plan and do your research, and don’t hesitate to seek guidance from a life coach, counselor, or another mental health professional who can provide valuable support and guidance along the way.

References

  1. Gollwitzer, P. M., Sheeran, P., Michalski, V., & Seifert, A. E. (2009). When intentions go public: Does social reality widen the intention-behavior gap? Psychological Science, 20, 612-618.
  2. Stevens, C. J., Baldwin, A. S., Bryan, A. D., Conner, M., Rhodes, R. E., & Williams, D. M. (2020). Affective determinants of physical activity: A conceptual framework and narrative review. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.568331
  3. Lally P., van Jaarsveld C. H. M., Potts H. W. W., Wardle J. (2010). How are habits formed: modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 40 998–1009. 10.1002/ejsp.674
  4. Balamurugan, A. (2019). Quitting “Cold turkey”: Insights from the field on smoking cessation. Public Health Open Access, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.23880/phoa-16000148
  5. Ogbeiwi, O. (2017). Why written objectives need to be really smart. British Journal of Healthcare Management, 23(7), 324–336. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjhc.2017.23.7.324
  6. Drach-Zahavy, A., & Erez, M. (2002). Challenge versus threat effects on the goal–performance relationship. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 88(2), 667–682. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0749-5978(02)00004-3
  7. Norcross JC, Vangarelli DJ. The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. J Subst Abuse. 1988-1989;1(2):127-34. doi: 10.1016/s0899-3289(88)80016-6. PMID: 2980864.
  8. Vermeeren, D. (2007, September 12). Why people fail to achieve their goals. Reliable Plant. https://www.reliableplant.com/Read/8259/fail-achieve-goals

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to Counslr, Inc., its partners, its employees, or any other mental health professionals Counslr employs. You should review this information and any questions regarding your specific circumstances with a medical professional. The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as counseling, therapy, or professional medical advice.

Input your email to download

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.