a christian perspective on the world today

The Resolution Solution

The new year has come and many of us desire to start fresh again with new hope or maybe a recycled dream from last year’s unfulfilled resolution. Did you recently make a New Year’s resolution? I’m one of those people who have recycled the same resolution year after year for about five years. I wanted to learn to play the guitar but even after the fifth year, I still haven’t learned. At one point, I succeeded in picking up a guitar and giving it a strum a few times—but it didn’t stick. Some people resolve never to make New Year’s resolutions and some have boldly stated that “Resolutions never succeed” and the origin of resolutions “is pure vanity. The result is absolutely nil.” That’s according to Oscar Wilde, at any rate. It is comforting to know that I am not alone on this quandary of failing to commit to my guitar-learning resolution. However, is this failure purely anecdotal? The question remains: is it worth it to make New Year’s resolutions at all?

Interestingly, the top 10 New Year’s resolutions on the web are mostly about making healthy lifestyle choices. Chances are you can relate to these popular resolutions of: eating healthier, losing weight, exercising more, sleeping more, travelling overseas, being more sustainable, having work-life balance, saving money, being more organised, living life to the fullest, learning new skills, meditating more or finding love. According to the latest Finder’s survey, about 71 per cent of Australians (14 million people) made New Year’s resolutions in 2023. The survey further showed that if you are young and female, you are more likely to set a resolution than any other demographic. A research group found that people are also more likely to make a resolution at the start of the year and those that plan from January are 10 times more likely to stick with the plan six months later, compared to those who make the resolution later in the year.1 Despite the mixed contentions that making a New Year’s resolution is already a guarantee of a failure, two studies in Scranton (New York, USA) and Sweden2 showed that 46 per cent or 55 per cent of people who have made New Year’s resolution have succeeded in continuing at least six months or one year, respectively. It appears that the glass is both half-full and half-empty, which is not too bad of a ratio, all things considered. These mentioned lifestyle resolutions are worth doing for our own physical, emotional and social health, as well as a greater spiritual experience. Perhaps the problem is not making resolutions, but how we make them, how we value them and what we do with our proclaimed resolution.

Adopting a new lifestyle resolution is not just a series of events but a journey to become something new. Just like any planning, there will always be stumbles, challenges, barriers and limitations. However, just because we can fail doesn’t mean that goals are never meant to be pursued. Perhaps we just lack the know-how to make our resolution a success. So, here is a collection of tips to help you succeed.

Ask why
We often want to become something but haven’t necessarily done a failure “post-mortem”. Although Dr Joann Lukins (a performance psychology expert) doesn’t necessarily favour setting New Year’s resolutions, she presented an important point to “audit yourself” on why you are not what your resolution aims for you to be. Take for example, “I want to have a better sleep routine.” Why don’t you already have a good sleep routine? Is it because you are working too late? Is your spouse or partner or housemate a late sleeper? Are you under a lot of stress? Ask why you are not already there and reflect on what or who is the barrier to your change.

Be specific
Understand exactly what you would like to change and make a specific plan. One of the common New Year’s resolutions is to eat healthier. So, what will you do to eat healthier? Consider a specific plan rather than, “I should eat more vegetables and fruit every day.” Perhaps a more specific goal is, “I would like to eat one piece of fruit every day and add one more serving of vegetables, in addition to my regular lunch and dinner plates. Then I will review and add another serve as I move more on the journey.”   

(Credit: Ashlyn Ciara, Unsplash)

Don’t be too ambitious
Being overambitious at the starting line can become a recipe for failure. The resolution goal is often unrealistic to achieve. Take the example of, “I’d like to run in 2024.” With that, the plan is to jog 30 minutes every day. At this point in time, you may not have a lot of experience with jogging. You may likely jog and in the first five minutes realise this was why you never picked up jogging before—especially when you still have 25 arduous minutes to go. You may even continue into the second week and eventually find the effort was too much. Instead, you could consider trying to set a more realistic goal by doing the run-walk method of timed intervals of two minutes of brisk walking, followed by jogging for 30 seconds and repeat eight times. Add a five-minute walk for a warm-up and cool-down, then adjust the walking pace and the interval times. This kind of start will make your jogging distance go further, be less stressful and feel more motivating.

Track and reward
Tracking your progress can be a rewarding experience. As you make progress, you’ll slowly begin to see yourself transform into the person you want to become. Rewarding yourself is also a great way to increase momentum. To track your progress, download an app or get a wall calendar. For any of the days that you complete a task, mark it off. When you record your efforts, you receive an immediate reward. Change happens day-to-day and the motivation kicks in further as you continue with your new habit.

Set your environment
Having a good environment around you helps to implement change, says James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. Consider whether your environment prompts you to do the action or to back out. If your resolution is to read more and your goal is to read a chapter every night before bed, put the book on the pillow when you make your bed in the morning. As you go to bed, the environment around you will prompt you that the book is readily available and waiting to be opened. Remove the barriers and make it easier for yourself to succeed.

Values and identity
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:4, “Patience produces character, and character produces hope.” Planting new habits takes patience, which in turn brings about character change. James Clear suggests that to maintain a new habit, ask yourself what value you want to adopt as you implement change. It is not striving for perfection that allows you to move forward, it’s about taking one step at a time closer to who you want to be. The goal may start with reading more books or doing 10,000 steps per day but consider your goals with a value in mind. Your goal can be reframed to, “I want to be a reader”, or “to be an active person”. What do you value and what would you like to strive to be as you maintain the new lifestyle?

What would you like to see as you go through this new year? It’s not easy to teach an old dog new tricks. Breaking habits is hard—but it is possible. It’s never too late to start something new or improve your life. As you begin to adopt a new mindset you may impact someone along the way. As for me, perhaps with these tips I may one day be able to play “Auld Lang Syne” on guitar—or even inspire someone else to adopt something new.

Dr Christiana Leimena-Lehn has worked in cardiovascular research in molecular cardiology and hypertension. She has a passion in educating and promoting whole-person health and nutrition.

1. Norcross JC, Mrykalo MS, Blagys MD. Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. J Clin Psychol. 2002 Apr;58(4):397-405. doi:10.1002/jclp.1151

2. Oscarsson M, Carlbring P, Andersson G, Rozental A. A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals. PLoS One. 2020;15(12):e0234097. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0234097

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