For most of us, New Year’s Resolutions exist to bring us hope that we can accomplish something new, something to be proud of, as we look into the upcoming year. Why is it, then, that we find ourselves losing motivation or completely forgetting we set new goals for ourselves a few weeks into the new year?
Studies show that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them . Should we participate in setting New Year’s Resolutions, and if so, how do we stay on track?
Let’s start by getting curious about our intention for setting resolutions.
A few questions to ask ourselves can sound like:
- “Why am I creating resolutions this year?”
- “Am I setting resolutions out of my own desire to see myself grow?”
- “Is this a societal expectation that I don’t have to ascribe to?”
- “Will it be helpful for me to set new goals for myself in this specific year?”
Being curious about why we personally set resolutions gives us permission to have ownership in our own decision making.
Once we know our “why,” we can acknowledge our life patterns.
Most of us live day to day within thought and behavioral patterns that make us who we are. These are created in our early years by watching others’ behaviors, gaining knowledge through experiences, and using accessible resources.
This doesn’t mean we can’t make changes in our lives, it just helps us understand that we can only do our best, with what we have, where we are! If we don’t have the proper knowledge, experiences, and resources to create a new pattern, it is unfair and entirely false to believe it is a moral failing when we don’t succeed.
One way we can look at resolutions as patterns to add to our day to day lives is through the Stages of Change Model. This model operates under the assumption that people do not change behaviors quickly and decisively. Rather, change in behavior occurs continuously through a cyclical process .
The Stages of Change Model says that we can move within 5 reported stages with self compassion and understanding that, because it’s cyclical, we may always be moving through the stages, even turning back and starting over if we need to.
The 5 Stages of Change:
We don't intend to take action in the foreseeable future (i.e. within the next six months). Precontemplation isn't a bad thing, and it's not unhelpful. This is just a stage where, when we look at our patterns, we don’t see anything we want to change [2,3].
We are thinking about what to change. In this stage, people are intending to start new behavior in the foreseeable future. They're thoughtful and make practical considerations of the pros and cons of changing the behavior, with equal emphasis placed on both [2,4].
We are ready to take action! People start to take small steps toward the behavior change, and they believe changing their behavior can lead to a healthier life. People begin gathering information from various sources: self-help books, counseling, change-oriented programs as they start to develop a plan of action [2,3].
We have started to engage in our new behavior and intend to keep moving forward. People may carry out this stage by modifying old or unhelpful behaviors, and using their resources from step 3 to acquire new healthy behaviors. Mentally, they review their commitment to themselves and develop plans to deal with both personal and external pressures that may lead to slips. People tend to be open to receiving help and are also likely to seek support from others [2,4].
We have a new pattern. In this stage, people have sustained their behavior change for a while (defined as more than 6 months) and intend to maintain the behavior change going forward .
Much like ourselves, this model isn't perfect. It doesn't account for our own personal needs or current societal context. It can, however, give us a framework to understand how people throughout time have made lasting changes in their lives.
The biggest New Year’s takeaway from this model is that we are always evolving and changing. This means that we may stay in one stage for a long time, or need to move “backward” to reassess what our needs are if we feel like we cannot maintain our new pattern.
If you believe that you would benefit from change, we have to get to a place in our lives where our old patterns aren’t working for us anymore. Whether that’s on December 31st or any other day in our calendar year, you can be proud of noticing what your needs are and taking care of yourself to the best of your ability.
Alisha Miller, MS, LCMHC, NCC, is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in the state of North Carolina. She believes that all humans deserve access to thoughtful, evidence-based ethical care that caters to each persons’ specific needs and goals. Alisha finds joy in working with her clients through relational and personal boundaries, self-compassion, and trauma-informed bodywork. Alisha has worked in the university setting, private practice settings, and non-profit agencies utilizing an integrative, client centered approach. She diligently works with clients in areas that encompass her clinical certifications in Internal Family Systems Theory, Acceptance and Commitment Therapies, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies.
1. Prossak, A. (2018, Dec 31) This Year, Don't Set New Year's Resolutions. Forbes. Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/justinconklin/2018/12/18/new-years-resolutions-are-for-loserstake-these-4-steps-instead/#235d55705e2c
2. LaMorte W,The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change). [Updated 2019 Sept 9]. Boston University School of Public Health. Available from: https://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/sb/behavioralchangetheories/behavioralchangetheories6.html
3. Raihan N, Cogburn M. Stages of Change Theory. [Updated 2021 Mar 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556005/
4. The Stages of Change. Virginia Tech Continuing and Professional Education, 2009, Available from: https://www.cpe.vt.edu/gttc/presentations/8eStagesofChange.pdf