New Year’s Resolutions: Why They are So Hard to Keep (and How to Make Them Stick)

The new year has finally begun! Alas, we say goodbye to 2020. If you think about it, aren’t we in a honeymoon phase with the year 2021 right now? As with all honeymoon phases, our relationship with 2021 also ideally starts with positive vibes filled with motivation and hope. It is no surprise that this phase also gives birth to the inevitable urge to list out our resolutions! Before we get into how we can fulfill our resolutions, let’s take a few steps back in time to learn how the tradition of making resolutions for the new year all began.

History credits the idea of resolutions to the Babylonians from over 4000 years ago. They created a 12-day long new year celebration where they promised their gods that they would pay their debts. 

In the year 46 B.C., Emperor Julius Caesar introduced a new calendar, making January 1st the first day of each year. Named after the two-faced deity Janus, the Romans would offer sacrifices and promise to be good citizens for the year ahead on this day.

So you see, resolutions (albeit under a different context) have been around for a really long time. However, despite the idea of new year’s resolutions being around for so long, we humans don’t seem to have mastered the art of sticking to them at all!

Some of the most common reasons for ditching resolutions are setting unrealistic or unattainable goals, lack of motivation and planning. Meanwhile, the most often listed resolutions include being fit, learning a new skill, getting organized or getting rid of an addiction. All of these goals involve creating new habits and destroying unhealthy ones. We forget to remember that these goals are not easy. Success never comes easy. It takes time, effort, and often the help of experts to train your brain for success. 

How to make — and keep — your New Year’s resolutions

Here are a few measures you can use to motivate yourself to stick to a new habit and increase your chances of success.

Plan ahead: Some people experience a momentary rush of motivation and quickly make a resolution, leaving the planning bit for later. When they do finally start to research and plan out their milestones, they realize that the said goal is in fact unrealistic, in the end ditching the idea altogether. Doing this leaves one feeling demotivated. This scenario can easily be omitted by simply taking the time to think about your goal and plan your pathway to get there before pledging to achieve it. 

Be as specific as can be: Ambiguous goals such as “losing weight” or “stress management” usually lead to nowhere. Be more precise with your goals. For example, tell yourself that you need to lose 12 kgs in 6 months, or you are now going to start scheduling “me times” at least once a week. Doing this will help you measure your progress and notice negative trends or habits. 

Allow time for your new habit to stick: It is a popular myth that it takes approximately 21 days for a habit to stick. Research suggests that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a habit to become automatic. Give yourself at least a month to familiarize yourself with the idea of adopting a new practice. How do you do this? If your goal is to learn to play the guitar, have a go at it every day, even if it’s just for five minutes. Push yourself to do it until it takes almost no effort to motivate yourself. If self-motivation is difficult for you, you can take advantage of therapies based on neuroplasticity, like neurofeedback therapy, to help you form lasting habits.

Create micro-goals: If your goal is to turn vegetarian, start by creating a list of vegetarian recipes for the week. If you want to lose 20 kgs this year, push yourself to work out at least thrice a week for two weeks. Want to read at least 30 books this year? Focus on completing one book in the next two weeks. The idea is to start small and move to bigger challenges when these small tasks start to feel easy. 

Try the buddy system: Accountability has time and again proven to ensure an increase in responsibility. Pair up with someone else who is serious about achieving their goals, and set out some time every week to update each other on your own journeys and progress/decline.

And so, there you have it: five fool-proof ways to increase your chances of success when it comes to fulfilling your new year resolutions! Let 2021 be the year you stay true to your promises and start your journey to leading a life of growth. 

Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, a Neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain's true potential.

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