With the start of 2022, many people made New Year’s Resolutions. Whether they resolved to be healthier, get off of TikTok, or spend more time with loved ones, lots of people set new goals for themselves. All of these, and countless other resolutions of self-improvement, are valid promises that individuals made to better themselves.
Many people act on these promises with renewed energy at the beginning of the year—exercising like crazy or deleting TikTok—but that energy often fizzles out when February comes around. Then all of a sudden, it is the next year and the process is doomed to repeat itself.
Rocky Mountain College’s own associate professor of psychology, Dr. Jenny Reichert, sheds light on why people make New Year’s Resolutions, explaining, “I think a lot of people think of the New Year as a time for renewal. Basically, everybody has a mismatch between what we call our self-image and our ideal self, so what we think we ought to be doing versus what we are actually doing. A lot of people think of the New Year as a time to initiate these habit changes.”
This desire to change habits is good. Most people begin the New Year with good intentions to improve themselves; however, Dr. Reichert described that sometimes we do not realize what attainable goals look like, which often results in our resolutions being unfulfilled.
Dr. Reichert states, “I think the reason that a lot of people fail on their New Year’s Resolutions is because they focus more on delayed rewards instead of short-term rewards. Then people think that they are more likely to stick to resolutions if those resolutions are really important things when actually we are more likely to stick to stuff that we just enjoy. We think there are things we ought to be doing, so we pick the things that we ought to be doing, instead of the things that we want to be doing.”
To demonstrate this point, we can consider one of the most common resolutions: the desire to exercise more. We think that we need to run on the treadmill for excessive amounts of time or go to the gym five days a week to reach our goal of exercising more. In reality, we should be doing whatever we enjoy—whether that is playing tennis or dancing—because we will be more likely to stick with it beyond January.
Dr. Reichert reiterates, “People tend to be more a little more successful if they choose things they actually enjoy doing, and focus on short term pleasures of doing the thing, instead of long term goals they want to attain.” She provides an example saying, “if you want to exercise because you want to lose weight, you are going to be a lot more successful if you pick stuff you enjoy doing in the moment versus thinking of what your ideal body weight is going to be months from now.”
The psychology behind doing what you enjoy is the law of least effort. Dr. Reichert explains that “humans are lazy above all else.” If we think of our resolutions as a chore, we are not going to want to do them along with our regular school and work schedules because it seems like added work that we simply do not want to do. Yet, if we do things we enjoy, that also help us achieve our goals, it will not seem like work at all. The other side of the law of least effort is setting goals that will fit into your existing lifestyle, rather than trying to fight your habits and create a whole new lifestyle.
The reality of the situation is that motivation will fade with time, but if we invest our time in something we enjoy doing, we could create new habits that are beneficial to us and realistic for our current lifestyle.
Dr. Reichert states, “It’s really more about discipline. Like I said, habits are stubborn, which means it’s a little bit of effort at the beginning to change the habit, and then once you have the habit set, that routine (once it becomes unconscious) it’s going to stick around. Then you get used to that and it becomes your habit and habits are stubborn. Then you can add a little bit more and a little more as you go.”
Outside of New Year’s Resolutions, Dr. Reichert advises Rocky students to not smoke, get good sleep, and drink lots of water, saying “If you do nothing else for yourself, those three things will add years to your life.”
The takeaways? If you want to achieve your New Year’s Resolutions, you just need to alter how you think of your New Year’s Resolutions. Make a resolution you enjoy, rather than something you think you are “supposed to do.” If you enjoy it, you will continue that practice long enough for you to establish the beneficial habits you want.