It’s been a week since you made those new year resolutions and then you ponder on what someone inevitably asked you back in December: “Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?” After a moment of thought, you are instantly reminded of your loose commitment to live healthier. You had responded, yes, and planned to join the local gym and exercise more, even set a reminder to subscribe to a gym. “Next year will be different and I will be healthier,” you said, and you are not alone in doing so. Many individuals would join a gym in January, in pursuit of New Year’s resolutions to be healthier. But will this year actually be different?
New Year’s is a popular time to “turn over a new leaf”, individuals intend to make changes to their routine to pursue long-term goals. The understanding of New Year’s resolutions has been benefited from behavioural science insights, as prominent research has highlighted two main reasons why this phenomenon occurs:
1) Long-term goal pursuit is challenging
2) New Year’s presents a unique motivational opportunity
However, maintaining New Year’s resolutions is another challenge in itself. To preserve this motivation, behavioural researchers have explored methods to help individuals persevere in pursuit of their long-term goals.
Challenge of Long-Term Goal Pursuit
The first component defining New Year’s resolutions involves the challenging aspect of long-term goal pursuit. While we know how important a goal may be, the benefits of achieving the goal are difficult to measure in the moment. If a person hopes to live healthier, the individual may recognise the importance of the goal, but may be unable to realise the outcome of being healthier, since the rewards are distant and abstract.
Take for example you like running and running indeed is good for you in the long run. However, running is dull and effortful in the moment. The dull momentary experience of running becomes our focus when the time for decision-making arrives. Therefore, immediate rewards are the driving force behind our decisions, and in this case, the healthier option loses.
Goal Setting Standards
New Year’s is a unique time for goal pursuit due to the societal constructs. Calendar landmarks, mark a new period of time: the start of a new week, a new month, or a new year. With this in mind we jump on the band wagon, setting our sights on achieving “A fresh start”.
With our current self-stuck in our current routine, like couch-sitting instead of running, the self after the goal has been set is open to routine changes, due to the perception of a new chapter of time. We perceive our future self to be more capable of pursuing challenging goals. So, what can we do to persist through some of the barriers that may hold us back?
There are two main strategies to consider:
1) Introduce positive external factors to the challenging goal
2) Set detailed implementation intentions.
Both of these strategies produce positive results and are likely to benefit your life.
Proceed step by step
Aiming for a long-term goal is important, but often has little motivational power at the moment. Instead, defining the steps needed to achieve the goal throughout the goal pursuit process can help motivate each action. Implementation intentions specify the details of the goal pursuit, such as the place, time, and instructions on how to perform the action. If you’re motivated to change your behaviour in the new year, keep pursuing that goal.
Setting goals and making plans to achieve those goals are important skills for creating a better future. Remember, if you strategically plan your goals, this year will truly be different.