Now is the perfect time to reflect upon 2023 and think about 2024. Grab a notepad—or your notes app—and a cup of coffee and settle into the January dusk: let’s talk New Year’s Resolutions.
iStock: Lana Sweet
Year after year, why do we make resolutions?
For many of us, the holidays are a time of decadence—even overindulgence—and the New Year offers a welcome opportunity to reset. We toss out the cookies and sign up for the gym: Each new year is a blank slate, full of potential and devoid of failure, which the human mind simply can’t resist.
A Dopamine hit.
From a neurological perspective, it’s easy to understand the appeal of New Year’s Resolutions: Setting goals and achieving them is a sure way to trigger a dopamine release.
Dopamine, a “feel-good hormone,” is part of the brain’s reward system. It’s what makes us feel good when we smell cookies baking, purchase a new pair of running shoes, or check an item off our to-do list. Dopamine is that rush you feel from a social media notification, or maintaining a daily streak in a fitness or learning app.
Achieving a goal releases those sweet chemicals into our brain. It keeps us coming back for more, which is partly why we can’t stay away from New Year’s Resolutions.
The desire to improve our lives.
Quite simply, we make New Year’s Resolutions because we want our lives to be better. Many of us are optimistic about tomorrow being better than today, and that positive attitude trickles down to how we feel about the New Year.
We want to spend less, save more, eat healthier, exercise consistently, start a new hobby, spend quality time with loved ones, read the books on our list, and generally become the best versions of ourselves.
If New Year’s Resolutions start us on that path to self-improvement, more power to them.
It sets an intention for the year.
Whether you hope to lose five pounds or eat more fish, taking time to reflect on what you want for the year is the place to start.
One thing of note: By keeping resolutions positive rather than negative, you have a greater chance of succeeding. An approach goal—adding a new habit, like running three times a week or trying a new recipe once a month—is 25% more likely to be met over an avoidance goal like trying to quit something, such as sweets or social media.
Set yourself up for success by choosing an approach goal in 2024.
How to make a successful New Year’s Resolution
Despite our lofty ambitions, many of us fail to meet our goals for the New Year.
While there haven’t been a lot of studies conducted on the success of New Year’s Resolutions, one large-scale experiment found that 40% of participants had maintained their resolutions after six months, and 19% at the two-year follow-up.
So, what’s the secret to success?
Start with a done list.
Before you make a list of everything you want to do or change in 2024, give yourself space to celebrate the wins of 2023—especially if you didn’t meet your original goals.
If you’re focusing on failure, you’re preventing your brain from getting the dopamine hit it deserves. Instead of dwelling in that negative space, acknowledge everything you did right in the last 12 months.
Did you make a new friend? Finish a big project at work? Did you get a raise, meet a tight deadline, or bake a successful souffle? If you’re going through an especially challenging season—like illness, raising little ones, or caring for parents—honor that, too.
Once you’ve silenced your inner critic and recognized your wins, you can start thinking about your hopes for 2024 with a refreshed and confident headspace.
Do you want to “exercise more”? What about “start saving”? The intent behind these types of sentiments is admirable, but ultimately not helpful when it comes to success.
Instead of a vague aim, pick a distinct target.
“Exercise more” becomes “run twice each week.” Change “start saving” to “max out my IRA,”.
A measurable goal is key to your success. Running twice a week is a task that can be checked off (get that dopamine hit!) and also easy to restart if you fall off the wagon.
Make them attainable.
This might seem obvious, but too many folks set overambitious goals for the New Year. Prioritize reality when you’re making your resolutions: Are they attainable?
Don’t set yourself up for failure by dreaming up lofty plans in the happy haze of the shiny New Year. Can you completely eliminate screen time? Probably not, but you can replace it with other activities such as reading and writing notes.
Have a plan, and start small.
In keeping your goals attainable, it helps to have a plan and work backward. Do you want to purchase a new home in 2024? Great! Start at the end goal and work backward, setting yourself up with small, simple steps that move you toward that goal.
You can’t learn a new language overnight. But you can download a learning app in January, sign up for an online course in March, and find a conversation partner in August—all baby steps to help you order spaghetti in flawless Italian on your next trip to Rome.
Keep it fun.
Remember, New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be about fitness, diet, or health. Enjoy the process of dreaming about the future, whether that means starting a new hobby, learning a musical instrument, or paging through a seed catalog to find something new to plant in the garden.
Give yourself freedom to explore everything life has to offer in 2024, and revel in every success along the way.
Happy New Year, from all of us at Dixon.