It is easy, in December, when surrounded by chocolate wrappers and leftover Christmas pudding, to decide to change your life when January comes around. It’s quite different when January arrives, bringing with it more darkness, more rain and possible feelings of low mood.
By now, it may well be that all the good intentions you had when browsing the Boxing Day sales for athleisure and sports equipment, signing up for gym memberships or committing to going vegan for a month have started to fall by the wayside.
Our lives don’t magically change on the first of January any more than they do on any other day. Making a change takes work.
The key question to ask yourself when it comes to new year’s resolutions is “why”. Why have you decided to change the things you have, or to do the things you have? What has driven you to it, and why do you want to achieve it?
If the answer is “I don’t know”, or is related to external pressures from other people or society in general (“I feel like everyone else has joined a gym, so I should too”), then chances are the resolutions won’t be sustainable.
Our research, which uses self-determination theory, led us to this conclusion. This theory, grounded in psychology, tells us that motivation is key to continuing with an activity, but that motivation needs to come from within ourselves – to be what is known as autonomous or internalised.
Find value in what you’re doing
If you are undertaking something because you think other people want you to, or because you want validation from other people, you are unlikely to keep going. If the activity has value to you or is enjoyable, then you are more likely to persist, even in the face of difficulties and setbacks.
Let’s consider an example. Many of the most common resolutions relate to fitness, which is an area well served by self-determination theory research.
Some people might resolve to join a gym or take up running in January because they feel they’ve overindulged over Christmas, or because an offer pinged into their inbox and it seems like everyone is doing it. But they are substantially less likely to keep up the habit than those who make the same resolution because they feel that getting fit is important to them.
This second group of people have found value in fitness which aligns with their own sense of what is important, or right for them, or likely to lead to a positive outcome which they value. People who enjoy fitness are also more likely to keep going with it. If you think about the activities you engage in in your own life, whether or not they are resolutions, this is likely to strike a chord.
Meeting your goals
You might have set yourself a specific goal as a resolution – such as to reach a certain level in a language. Again, your success depends on how important this goal is to you.
Think about your reasons. If it is because you think you “should” be able to speak another language, then you might not last that long – especially once the novelty has worn off and the effort required has stepped up. If you’re preparing for a trip, and you think knowing the local language will help you when you are there, then you are more likely to sustain the habit – at least until the trip arrives.
Whether you continue beyond that is another question, as you will have met your original goal. Without another upcoming trip to the same destination, you might find that the habit you’ve created becomes harder to sustain.
So, with all this in mind, what can you do to ensure you keep your new year’s resolution? Well, firstly, try and make it something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it before you start, think about what you can do to make it enjoyable. If you’ve resolved to get fit, but the gym is not working for you, try something else – perhaps swimming, running or yoga.
If you want to learn a language, but it’s turning out to be hard work rather than fun, try a TV series in your target language (with subtitles) or studying with a friend.
And make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. If you’re only doing something for other people, and not for yourself, then your motivation is likely to be poorer quality and harder to sustain. A friend may have cajoled you into joining the gym, but if you start to look forward to the camaraderie of a spin class, your motivation will become more internalised.
And one final note. If you decide your new year’s resolution isn’t working, allow yourself flexibility. It’s ok to shift your goals, or put them on hold.
The post “ask yourself why you’re doing it” by Abigail Parrish, Lecturer in Languages Education, University of Sheffield was published on 01/10/2024 by theconversation.com