Making and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

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If we’re so much better at making New Year’s resolutions than at keeping them, why do we bother? I think it has something to do with the need we all have for hope.

Sometimes you have to wonder why we even make New Year’s resolutions. Many times, it seems they are simply destined to be broken, often not too long after they’re first made. So why do we make them in the first place?

A good part of the reason we make resolutions for the new year has to do with the nature of our behavior during the weeks leading up to it. Reliable data show that in the time period from Thanksgiving through Christmas, most of us engage in a whole lot of over-indulgence on many fronts. We spend more time being couch potatoes. We eat too much food and partake of too many candies and desserts. We spend more money than we really need to, and we drink too much. Of course, we pay a pretty hefty price for all this carelessness and excess, and because the consequences of it add up and hit us pretty fast, we become even more motivated than we might be at other times of the year to take a long, hard look at some of our ways and strengthen our resolve to change them.

Many folks make a good start on their New Year’s resolutions, only to become dejected a few weeks later when they find themselves “slipping” or reneging on the promises they made. Generally speaking, by mid-February, all the vows we make on January 1 have been broken at least once. From a psychological perspective, we become victims of the motivational paradox that surrounds resolution-making. The motivation to make changes is naturally the highest when we’re in the midst of paying the consequences of our irresponsible behavior (e.g., during the weeks preceding the new year when we’ve been so self-indulgent). So, one would expect that motivation to wane during the first few weeks of the new year when we’re behaving ourselves a little better and no longer suffering as much from adverse consequences.

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Keeping resolutions is difficult not just because the pains of our pre-new year behavior have begun to fade by February, but also because the benefits we hope to derive from the promises we make are not realized immediately. Generally, it takes months of dedicated, faithful work to achieve the goals we set for ourselves and to reap the rewards we anticipate. When these fail to fully materialize in force and in relatively short order, we can easily loose both interest and motivation and slip back into our old ways.

Sometimes I think the main reason we make New Year’s resolutions — despite knowing there’s a really good chance we’ll not be successful with them — is the need we all have for hope itself. There’s something about the start of a new year, and the inherent promise it holds that things might be different from or better than the year before, that gives us hope. Without hope for something more, something better, something newer, something more wonderful for the year to come, the first day of the new year would be just another day. We add some magic to that day and kindle hope in our hearts when we at least commit ourselves to do better and to be better in the year to come. So, even though I know I’m likely to break most of them, I’m already in the process of lining up my resolutions for the new year. And even though I know I’m probably kidding myself as I do it, I’ll tell myself that my effort will be a way to do my small part in the age-old task of keeping hope alive!

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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