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New Year’s Resolutions: Why are we so bad at keeping them?

New year, new start. It is a terrible cliché. But the fact is, as another year ticks by, it’s a good opportunity to close down the open tabs in our brains and refresh the browser. However, having created some new, unused space, we fall into the trap of filling it with so-called New Year’s resolutions, stacking up new tabs and maxing out. According to a You Gov poll, 29% of 18-24-year-olds intend to start 2024 by making a New Year’s resolution. Yet, how many will actually stick? 

The custom of a New Year’s resolution dates back 4000 years to the Babylonians. They would celebrate the new year by promising the gods to pay their debts and return any borrowed objects. Whilst today we don’t make promises to the Gods, we do make them to ourselves. Has this innovation made it easier to stick to them? Well the same poll reported that only 9% claimed to have stuck to their resolutions throughout the year. Even after 4,000 years of practice, why are we so bad at keeping them?  

New Year’s Resolutions are about getting into the habit of doing new things. Too often, we set such overwhelming ambitions that we’re just lining ourselves up for failure. The first hurdle we trip down on is Mondays. Like the new year, starting something new at the beginning of the week is certainly enticing. The synergy of 2024 starting on a Monday should make committing and sticking to our promises easier. But the problem with Mondays is that there are 53 of them this year. There will always be another Monday to star again but before you know it, it will be 2025. 

In all seriousness, it’s because we’re muddled up between means, and our ends often confuse the difference between aspiration and practice. If the polling data is anything to go by, we make a practice out of setting goals and aspiring to achieve them. This is the wrong way around. If we are to stick to our ‘resolutions’, there has to be a change. The most effective habit to create this change is focus.

What is focus? The idea of focusing is often misleading. It’s not a switch that can be flicked on, where we say, “Right, I’m going to focus today”. Instead, it is a habit that, once formed, must be constantly maintained. That is done by saying no to other stuff. It means sacrifice. It means saying no to things you want to do with every bone in your body. Saying no to things you can’t stop thinking about from waking up until falling asleep again. It takes practice. Research shows it takes 66 consecutive days to form a habit in the brain. That is hard. Start small. Start with one thing to say no to and build it up from there. 

Optimism alone will not create the habit of achieving the goal you’ve set for yourself. This is the reason why so many resolutions fail. Without the ability to focus, it just creates an endless doom loop of failed ambitions. 

Why not form the habit that will allow you to create further habits? Change is big and hard. It’s also lots of baby steps on a bigger journey. Most importantly, refining your ability to focus will give you the confidence to decide what is essential and what isn’t. Therefore it sets the parameters for further change in the future. 

Meaningful and lasting change is a lot of little things done well. It will scare you how many goals can be achieved when you truly learn to focus. Otherwise, every year, we just become a nation of almosts and maybes. 

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