Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Brain hacks to stick with your New Year’s resolutions

Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Graphic by Alisha Reisenbichler

New year, new goals.

The start of a new calendar year often brings opportunities for change and personal growth in the form of New Year’s resolutions.

When surveyed, 55% of 29 participating students and faculty at Southeast said they have set resolutions for the 2021 new year. Among those goals, respondents list budgeting, eating healthier, self care, academics and learning new skills as priorities for the new year.

Graphic by Alisha Reisenbichler

At Southeast, psychology professors Eu Gene Chin and Shawn Guiling focus on the impact of intentional behavior changes — such as New Year’s resolutions — on individuals’ lives.

When forming goals for the new year, it’s helpful to understand why someone creates resolutions in the first place. Someone’s “ideal self” versus reality often plays into new goals, Chin said. A person’s ideal self may be influenced by internal and external messages; it reflects the traits they value in others.

When polled, many students and faculty listed changing past behaviors — such as negative self-talk or unbalanced diets — as the motivation for their resolutions.

When someone realizes their identity isn’t where they’d like it to be, they feel compelled to create changes, Chin said. A new calendar year can provide a sense of newness and optimism that compels someone to make those changes, Guiling added.

While starting successfully may vary from person to person, Chin and Guiling offered a few tips to ensure New Year's resolutions last past January.

Starting with small goals helps to build self-efficacy and triggers reward chemicals in the brain. After accomplishing a task, the brain releases the “feel-good” chemical dopamine, which helps someone feel satisfied. Setting small, easily-accomplished goals can help someone to reach larger potential.

Graphic by Alisha Reisenbichler

“We want to give ourselves a sense of accomplishment and keep it going,” Chin said.

He recommends doing one task to feel accomplished and one task to feel happy each day.

Without this sense of accomplishment, one mistake can feel soon like a failure, Chin said. Individuals often perceive mistakes in goals as weakness, leading to them giving up a resolution. Forbes reported in a February 2020 article that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. By recognizing reasons resolutions fail and avoiding them, individuals can help extend their resolutions.

In addition to recognizing achievable goals, Guiling recommends keeping track of your progress towards a resolution. It helps to see the big picture, he said, as well as build a sense of accomplishment when viewing that data.

Some apps, such as Strides and Done, can help chart that success digitally. In addition to creating a more tangible reminder of your success, Chin said these types of apps may connect users with other like-minded people.

Adding a social element to goals helps to strengthen motivation to achieve them, Guiling said. It may also be useful to surround yourself with like-minded individuals and avoid distractions that don’t align with your goals.

What if someone stumbles on their journey to resolution success? Chin advises adopting a growth mindset; while temporary delays in progress are inevitable, continuing towards a goal ensures success in the long run.

“To be successful, we need to make mistakes,” he said. “Mistakes really are an opportunity for you to learn and get better.”

PSYCHOLOGY TIPS - Use these hacks to extend your resolutions past February!

>>>>>Keep a list of every time you worked towards your goal.

>>>>>Eliminate any distractions that might interfere with your goals.

>>>>>Remember that mistakes aren’t weaknesses; they’re opportunities for growth.

>>>>>Set several easily-attainable goals instead of one large goal.

APPS - Keeping track of your habits can lead to success when setting goals! Try downloading a new app to keep your resolutions.

>>>>>Done - Tracks a limited number of goals with reminders. Free; subscription available.

>>>>>Plant Nanny - Motivates to drink water by raising plants. Free.

>>>>>Moody - Tracks patterns in mood with a daily journal. Free; subscription available.

>>>>>Calory - Tracks calorie, nutrient and water intake. Free; subscription available.