New Year′s Eve — How to make resolutions for the new year | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 30.12.2020
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New Year's Eve — How to make resolutions for the new year

Quit smoking, exercise more, eat healthier. Every New Year's Eve, we plan to do great things over the next year. Only to fail every time. We'll tell you how to make sure your New Year's resolutions actually work out.

New Year's Eve — How to make resolutions for the new year

Can you stick to your resolutions this year? DW is here to help.

There is certainly no lack of good ideas for 2021: slimming down, drinking less alcohol, meditating more often, and so on and so forth. Wait a minute! Aren't the resolutions you had this past year, and the year before that (and before that, and before that) amazingly similar to the new ones? Indeed! Perhaps they're even exactly the same.

No surprise! The enthusiasm with which we start each new year is a bit like the fireworks on New Year's Eve: After a loud bang and bright flash, everything soon fizzles out. Eventually, the inner culprit takes control again. And so the misery repeats itself year after year. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you take a few things to heart, 2021 could actually be a good year for you.

1. One after another

"The biggest mistake you can make is to do too many things at once," says psychologist Mario Schuster. If you not only want to stop smoking, but also ban sweets from your diet and finally start jogging, you're bound to overtax yourself.

"To break old habits, we need willpower," explains Schuster. But nobody has that in abundance. Pursuing several goals at the same time therefore also means that our willpower has to be multi-tracked — and thus is quickly used up. In the end, we don't get anywhere.

"There's nothing to be said against changing several habits," says the psychologist. "The important thing is to take things one step at a time."

2. It must be fun

So now we have to pick out a resolution on which we can concentrate fully. But which one? They're all reasonable and sensible, after all. The answer sounds simple: "It must be fun. We need a positive approach to the change we want to make," says Schuster.

"I have to stop smoking" and "I want to stop smoking" may differ only marginally in terms of language. From a psychological point of view, however, it is crucial for the long-term success of a project whether we have to, or want to, do something.

3. Remain realistic

Those who spent most of their free time lying on the couch in 2020 and have now made a plan to go jogging for an hour four times a week in 2021 are setting the bar extremely high. Most likely too high.

A proven couch potato can be proud if he or she manages to get up even twice. Even if it's only for half an hour. "Regularity is more important than duration and intensity," explains psychologist Schuster. After all, the point is to establish sport as a new habit. Those who don't immediately overtax themselves to the point of exhaustion also have a better chance of retaining the fun (see point 3), and thus also their good intentions.

4. Be accountable

The resolution has been selected and has taken shape. "Now it may be helpful to tell a few people about it," says the psychologist. Because it strengthens the commitment and provides accountability. A promise that we make alone in a quiet little room is broken more quickly than one we make out loud.

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Incentives for exercise

5. Do not despair

2021 is underway and we are managing to stick to our good intentions. But then it comes, the first motivation hole — and with it the longing for a cigarette. On top of that, the gravitational force of the couch has never been greater!  So we give in, lie down and have a smoke. What now?

"Under no circumstances should you condemn yourself for it," warns Schuster. Because that would quickly derail the entire project. Setbacks are always possible and perhaps even probable. And they are okay!

Instead, the focus should be on feelings of success — no matter how small they may seem. This strengthens our self-efficacy, explains Schuster. "Self-efficacy means the conviction of a person to be able to create something by his or her own efforts." Those who maintain this belief in themselves do not throw in the towel so quickly.

6. Better no resolution at all than a bad resolution

Even good resolutions can be bad — when they're difficult to integrate into our lives, or when the driving force is an "I must" and not "I want."

When we then fail spectacularly, and self-condemnation has completely killed our self-efficacy, we must realize that even the best resolution is not automatically good. And that, in some cases, we are better off starting the New Year without any good resolutions. 

This article has been updated.

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