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What are New Year’s resolutions?

New Year’s resolutions are goals or promises people make (often to themselves) to change or better themselves in the year to come. This comes from the idea that the New Year not only brings along new beginnings, but also a fresh start. People will often become invigorated with the clean slate that follows the New Year and may become motivated to make changes they have been wanting to implement for quite some time. Common New Year’s resolutions are nutrition and fitness, habit cessation (e.g., smoking), general health, and productivity.

What is the problem with New Year’s resolutions?

New Year’s resolutions, in-and-of themselves are not problematic. It is nice to feel motivated and set goals for ourselves. However, the way we are trained to think about the New Year is problematic. As the New Year approaches, we may become inundated with motivation and make big and obscure goals for ourselves. We may stick to our resolutions for a short period of time, but often that motivation will fade, and any behavior changes implemented will cease. This is because New Year’s resolutions, much like other fads, buy into a “quick fix” or “magical approach” to behavior change. The reality is that behavior is hard work and takes a lot of time and dedication. On average it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to learn a new habit. Moreover, any type of change should be intrinsically motivated (coming from you) and not extrinsically motivated (coming from another source, e.g., New Year). The chance of us staying both motivated and dedicated to the change is higher when we are intrinsically motivated to make change.

What are alternatives to New Year’s resolutions?

New Year’s resolutions are not necessarily problematic. However, there are some important things to consider. First, you can set goals and make changes at any time point in your life; you do not have to wait until the New Year. Second, when we are extrinsically motivated to make change, it can feel like we must do something (versus wanting to do something). Therefore, it’s important that our goals are intrinsically motivated. One tip for setting goals is using a SMART goal approach (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based). This is the difference between saying “I want to feel more rested” and “I will go to bed every night at 10:00 PM to make sure I get a full 8 hours of sleep”. SMART goals help us stay motivated and accountable. When our goals are not specific or loosely defined, we may feel overwhelmed, unmotivated, or even hopeless about achieving them. Finally, your therapist can help you set goals at any point during the therapeutic process and can work collaboratively with you to achieve your goals.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.