Already giving up on those New Year’s Resolutions? This is how to keep them

23 February 2022 |

To do a bit more sport, to eat a healthier diet and to try to put a bit more money aside. There is a good chance that you made some sort of list of good resolutions on 1st January this year, but that already, that list has become little more than a statement of good intentions. That’s not unusual, according to Professor Emelien Lauwerier. But the good news is that it’s still not too late to pick it up again, simply by adjusting your approach.

Forming good intentions is one thing, but being able to stick to them is another. “There is a big difference between setting yourself goals, and actually achieving them. In literature, we call the disparity between intentions and behaviour the ‘behavior gap’. These are two totally different phases, and you need to be conscious of this when deciding what you want to accomplish. Just because you have ambitions doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to achieve them. That’s something you’ll need to work at” Professor Emelien Lauwerier explains.

Moment of reflection

“I too have all sorts of positive intentions at the start of the year. I’m going to eat less meat, redesign my garden, and finally make a start on a list of books that I’ve been wanting to read for so long. My good resolutions stay with me for a while. But every year, I see that after a while, a number of them have already fallen by the wayside,” she laughs. “It’s only human.”

So is there actually any point in making new resolutions? “ Yes, absolutely. They are a moment for reflection, and definitely at the start of the new year, you’ll feel encouraged to make more conscious choices. You ask yourself certain questions. What make me happy? What do I want to focus on? What habits would I prefer to break? And thus a set of New Year’s Resolutions is born.”

Helpful tips

Making new resolutions is one thing, but how can you be sure you’ll keep to them? Motivation and perseverance are of course important, but there are a few other tips and tricks that may be helpful:

1. Set yourself clear, concrete goals

“The more vague and unreallistic your resolutions are, the more difficult it will be for you to adapt your behaviour. So try using the SMART technique: be sure to make your goals Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic and Time-limited. Imagine, for example, that you’ve decided that you want to do more voluntary work. By applying the ‘SMART’ technique to your thinking, you can agree with the care home in the village that you will help them serve the residents their evening meal every Monday evening from 5 o’clock till 7. Making clear, concrete resolutions will help you achieve them.”

2. Recognise the potential obstacles

With every resolution that you form there will always be obstacles to address and overcome. What happens if it starts to rain, for example, just as you are about to go out and run a few kilometres? Before you even start, be aware of the potential impediments to your plans and work out solutions for each of them, and you’ll find that it will then be much easier to adapt your behaviour.

Emelien: “‘Coping planning’ is is a powerful technique whereby you take time to focus on what is actually preventing you from realising your ambition. If, for example, your goal is to have a healthier diet, then the children’s aversion to vegetables has the potential to really throw a spanner in the works. But it’s actually easily solvable, simply by preparing your own portion of food – with vegetables – in a separate pan.”

3. Keep of track of what you do

“Don’t forget to keep a track of everything that you achieve. Try to focus not just on the bigger things, but also on those smaller steps you’ve made which are equally important. This process of self-monitoring is important in that it helps you stay motivated, making it easier for you to look back and see what you have achieved so far. Apps are a great tool for this. If your aim is to do more sport, for example, then you can use the app on your smartwatch to keep a record of your progress. But you can also keep a diary, that works just as well”.

4. Have a dream, but also have a plan

““Create some mental room for yourself to think about where you want to go. But don’t stop there. You also need to think about what is stopping you, and what you want to achieve. Try using the WOOP method, whereby you express a Wish, a challenging but achievable goal. Think carefully about the possible result, the Outcome: what it is that you are working towards. Focus on the things that could perhaps stand in the way of you achieving your goal, the Obstacles, and come up with potential solutions: a Plan. You can easily experiment with the WOOP technique yourself via an online questionnaire.”

5. Don’t put yourself under undue pressure

“Don’t make your list of good resolutions too long. Changing your pattern of behaviour takes a lot of energy. If you don’t manage to achieve (all) your goals, it can actually become counter-productive, and your self-confidence wll perhaps take a bit of a beating. It’s much better to establish a set of smaller, more realistic aims, rather than an exhaustive list of big ambitions. And you know, if it’s getting too difficult, then it’s more than ok to relinquish certain goals (for a while at least) and just take smaller steps in the right direction, so as not to put yourself under too much pressure. Be gentle on yourself.”

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