What a Clinical Psychologist Says About Better Keeping New Year’s Resolutions
Relying on our will power alone is just one of the reasons we break our New Year's resolutions, but techniques like combining them with tasks we already do daily could help. Photo: Alexandr Kolesnikov/Getty Images
It’s admirable, the making of New Year’s resolutions. But the keeping of those resolutions is, let’s just say, a struggle. The results from one oft-cited study showed that nearly a quarter of us abandon them after just one week.
Historians tell us that the aspirational practice dates back some 4,000 years, to ancient Babylon. Of course, there’s no telling whether Babylonians were as likely as us to break their resolutions in such short order.
Fortunately, with modern times comes expert advice.
In her latest book, A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety, and Traumas, Toronto-based clinical psychologist Dr. Monica Vermani writes about the magic wand exercise she uses with patients.
“The value of this exercise is in this gap between the ideal and the current state of things,” she tells me. “The current status gives us a starting point. And the ideal, a destination. The gap is the path to a goal, a path to changing what we want to change.”
That seems like a good place to start.
Of course, it’s not the aspiring with which we to need help — nearly a third of us plan to make New Year’s resolutions this year, suggests a recent survey.
“The reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail is that we place impossible standards on ourselves, and over-rely on willpower alone to carry the day,” Vermani says.
She advocates recruiting support, in the form of a fitness coach, a nutritionist, a career counsellor, a therapist, etc.
“The reality is that we do the best we can with what we know. But, when it comes to making changes in our lives, sometimes we need to bring in resources to meet our goals,” she says.
“We also need to build awareness around the self-sabotaging mechanisms that come into play to hold us back from attaining our goals.”
That segues nicely into yet another piece of advice — and perhaps the most important for some of us.
“The next time you create a goal — or a New Year’s resolution, which is essentially a goal — take a moment to list the obstacles you can foresee that undermine or limit your ability to stick to, and reach your goal,” says Vermani.
If your resolution for 2023 is to exercise more — and for more than half of us it is — a positive association could help.
“You may find that working out in the morning boosts your energy level and improves your ability to focus at work. The on-the-job benefits of your early morning workout,” she explains, “reinforces your commitment to your fitness goal.”
Vermani also recommends allotting time in your schedule to help eliminate the excuse of having no time to work out, and to help build a new routine.
She also offers the task-combination strategy for improving the odds.
“For example, [there’s] the strong habit of brushing your teeth in the morning with the irregular habit of taking your vitamins. By combining brushing your teeth with taking your vitamins, you’re more likely to take your vitamins.”
From there, Vermani says it’s important to regularly revisit and re-evaluate the goals — in this case, the resolutions — we set for ourselves. And, to appreciate our progress along the way. In fact, showing ourselves such compassion just might be the best resolution we can make.
“As well intended as our New Year’s resolutions may be,” she says, “a little celebration of how far we have come would go a long way to set the scene for a great start to the new year.”