Some resolutions are made on the spur of the moment. Some would have taken late-night ponderings. By now, most of us would have listed down our new year’s resolutions and kickstarted them. The end of the year is often seen as the beginning of something else. No matter the reasons, millions of people worldwide make New Year’s resolutions every year, hoping to spark change.
But how many of us follow through what we had planned? It is no secret that despite putting one’s best foot forward and preparing for change, many people struggle to stick to their plans. Change is difficult. These days, there are plenty of applications and gadgets in the market that promise to help people with their set goals.
According to the Head of Psychology Department at Monash University Malaysia, Professor Elizabeth Jones, using apps or gadgets to assist with behavioural changes has become a trend. “Gadgets can monitor our behaviour, but they can’t change it. Though they can be useful, we need to set in place other conditions that can help us change our behaviour.”
Apps and gadgets need to be used in conjunction with other strategies. Someone looking for a lifestyle change may find smart technologies work better with a health professional or support group. Studies have indicated that more than 80% of people are likely to ditch their resolutions two months into their plans and make the same commitments again the following year.
“Changing our behaviour is hard work. It is much easier to keep doing the same things. Humans are creatures of habits. It is helpful when we have good practices but not useful when trying to change bad habits,” Jones shared.
Stating that many set unrealistic goals, Jones added that people do not usually put in place the support they need to achieve their goals. They tend to quit when they fail, instead of giving it another try.
“Set realistic, measurable and achievable goals. This may mean aiming for small changes that are not too difficult to achieve. For example, a short 15-minute walk is more realistic and attainable than a five-km run. It’s best to have smaller subordinate goals to help you work towards a bigger goal than making a beeline for a greater superordinate goal,” Jones explained. She also added that it is better not to have too many goals.
Social support is crucial when making changes. We are more likely to engage in new behaviour when executing it with other like-minded people who will encourage us to carry on. Some find pursuing life-changing activities more enjoyable when done in groups. Instead of
simply relying on gadgets and apps, surrounding yourself with people who will support your goals is essential.
“For many people, an appropriate health professional may be an important part of their social support. Such a person can help them design realistic goals, identify barriers to change, and develop useful self-talk strategies to use.”
Jones expressed that rewarding yourself when you have achieved a goal is helpful and not punish yourself when you do not. There often are obstacles to achieving one’s goals. Identifying these barriers is the first step towards finding ways to overcome them.
“Do not let failure to achieve your goal the first time stop you from trying again. Many people are successful in changing their behaviour after multiple attempts,” she added.
The pandemic has left people exhausted and still living with high levels of uncertainty. It has had a significant effect on people’s mental health. But this should not stop us from pursuing some form of New Year’s resolutions. “There is evidence that people who have focused on their resilience during the pandemic, who have focused on looking for ways they can grow during the pandemic, have better mental health. And goals that develop our sense of autonomy, sense of competence, and sense of social connection are good for our well-being,” Jones stated.
Learning to cook new dishes, musical or artistic pursuits, or having a regular meditation time may all be realistic and achievable during COVID-19 and contribute to our mental health.
An opinion piece by Head of Psychology Department at Monash University Malaysia Professor Elizabeth Jones