How To Keep New Year Resolutions

It’s a New Year tradition - but will 2021 be the year that we actually manage to keep our resolutions?

As 2020 comes to a close, most of us will be thrilled to see the back of what has been an incredibly challenging year. And while none of us could have foreseen the madness that 2020 turned out to be, many of us are looking to 2021 as the year we claw back some semblance of normality in our lives – starting with a creating list of New Year resolutions.

Despite all best intentions, in previous years it may have been pretty standard that most people abandon their New Year resolutions within weeks of making them. But after having little or no chance to plan for the future in recent months, there’s no better time than now to make resolutions we actually want to keep – ones that change our lives for the better. From ditching bad habits to regaining the mojo you may have lost over the past 365 days, experts agree that the key to making resolutions that last is to first be brutally honest with yourself on numerous levels.

“Good intentions are not enough to change behaviour—we must become more conscious—only then can we have change that is long-lasting,” explains Lighthouse Arabia’s Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Saliha Afridi. “We are culturally expected to make New Year resolutions, and I think it’s natural that with any new beginning, you have the intention to want to do and be different. However, we don’t realize that some of the habits we’re trying to change are deeply rooted behavioural systems. So if we make superficial goals without addressing the underlying causes of those behaviours, we end up right back where we started – this time with less hope and more discouragement.” 

With this in mind, Dr.Saliha says that the first step in changing any kind of behaviour is becoming aware of how it is helping you to manage difficult emotions. “When it comes down to it, all negative behaviours are anxiety management systems, and if we can identify the purpose of your behaviour, we can replace it with something that is more consistent with your values,’ she says. ‘For example, a person may eat to avoid difficult emotions. One way to identify the hidden agenda of the behaviour you’re trying to tackle is to ask yourself: What would happen if I stopped the behaviour that gets in the way of achieving the goals I’ve set for myself? By getting rid of the food, the person is being asked to face difficult feelings without an ‘armour’. So in order to succeed in making lasting change, it’s important for the person to find something that will help them cope with the situation and is also consistent with their values. Perhaps the person truly values their health—so instead of eating, they could go for a walk when they are feeling anxious. Or if they value friendship, they could call a friend when they are going through something they find difficult to deal with on their own.”

Making a point of thinking about what you really want to change, and filing your resolution list with easy, good-for-you goals is also more important than attempting to totally transform your existence. “If you’re making resolutions for the upcoming year, be realistic and start small. Don’t commit to massive changes that can be tough to follow through on – do it step by step,’ says Aakanksha Tangri, founder of Re: Set. ‘So if you want to quit sugar, don’t give it all up at once. You’ll be setting yourself up to fail which can backfire and demotivate you from sticking to your resolutions. You’ll be better off making a weekly and monthly goal that will allow you to follow through on slowly weaning yourself off of sugar.” 

And there’s much to be said for partnering with a friend who has a similar resolution in mind. “I’d really recommend finding a buddy for your new year resolutions: you both can hold each other accountable and motivate each other through the journey,’ adds Aakanksha. “Most importantly, be mindful of how you speak to yourself and the messages you’re giving to your own brain while you take on a new resolution. It’s important to remember that getting through this tumultuous year has been a task in itself. So be kind to yourself and remember that it’s difficult to let go of or adopt a new habit. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you stumble.”

Lucy Wildman

Lucy Wildman

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