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Why we make New Year’s resolutions and how to make yours stick

01.05.2016 | By:

It’s that time of year again. If you’re like most people, you’ve resolved to do a few things differently in 2016.

But why do people like to make New Year’s resolutions? What’s the point? We asked Sarah Roche, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing and consumer behavior expert at Texas Wesleyan, to explain why we’re compelled to make New Year’s resolutions and how we can make them stick. 

Q: Why do we make New Year’s resolutions?

A: The tradition of reviewing one's previous year and resolving to improve, is suspected to be born from Protestant traditions where a church gathering on the night of New Year's eve was held for spiritual and self-reflection. The more secular version still echoes the ideas of self-improvement, and at the heart of this is the idea that we all want to feel good about ourselves. Self-esteem is intimately intertwined with one's well-being, so what better way to improve one's life than to improve one's self? The new year marks a change in calendar but also a nice demarcation for us to feel that we can also change ourselves. 

Q: New Year’s resolutions are infamous for being hard to keep. What happens when we fail?

A: The real catch, or unknown risk, is the fact that New Year's resolutions, though perhaps aimed at improving one's self-esteem, may actually serve to do the opposite. Repeated failure to improve in one's resolutions or self-improvement goals may actually serve to decrease self-esteem and feelings of self-efficacy. 

Q: What can we do to improve our chances of following through with resolutions?

A: According to an article from the Wall Street Journal, it takes 66 days to form new habits and airing your intentions publicly may actually decrease your chances of achieving the goal (announcing your resolution before complete can give a false sense of accomplishment). So, I would suggest coming up with a three-month plan, sticking to it, and keeping your resolution to yourself. Also, set small goals to help you reach long-term goals that otherwise seem unattainable, and motivate yourself by focusing on why the goal is important.