People who succeed in their New Year’s resolutions often feel no better and return to bad habits, says University of Huddersfield psychologist Dara Mojtahedi.
But the mere action of making resolutions – without carrying them out – makes people feel better about themselves, the psychology lecturer says.
People make New Year resolutions, says Dara, to justify their Christmas binge or simply because other people are making them.
In both cases there is little intention of honouring the resolutions, hence why the majority of them fail.
Dara said: “If you’ve said you’ll go to the gym, the hard part is going regularly and eating better, but the reward is looking better.
“By thinking and talking about that – without actually doing it – you’re already reaping the reward.
“Just setting a resolution makes you feel better.
“No-one goes to bed at Christmas saying: ‘I’ve been bad.’ Instead they say: ‘This is what I’m going to do.’
“It’s a coping strategy; it’s a justification for doing stuff that’s not good for you.”
But half-hearted and unrealistic resolutions can backfire in what Dara calls a ‘false hope syndrome.’
Dara said: “We exaggerate our capabilities and this can have a knock-on effect.
“This damages our self-esteem; if you can’t even start your resolution it feels even worse.”
And even if you’ve lost a stone or stopped smoking you won’t necessarily feel better if there are underlying issues.
Dara said: “People set up resolutions in the first place because they think it will make them feel better.
“Then they’ve done it and they feel exactly the same. For example, they’re single so they diet to make themselves more attractive. But when they’ve lost the weight they’re still single they think: ‘what’s the point?’ and return to old habits.”
Dara, however, believes resolutions done for the right reasons can change people for the better.
So what can you do to give your resolution a fighting chance?
Here’s what Dara recommends:
1) Make one resolution. Multiple resolutions are more likely to fail and cause extra disappointment.
2) Set a specific target. For example, aim to lose 5kg rather than simply to ‘lose weight.’
3) Why wait until the New Year? Don’t use arbitrary dates as a reason to delay your resolution.
4) Don’t make one big resolution. Split it into manageable goals. For example, if you smoke don’t just stop.
5) Talk about it with friends and family. Get them to monitor your progress. You’re more likely to succeed if someone knows you’re doing it.
6) Stay in the present. Think about what you’ll do today not next week.
7) Give yourself a suitable reward for the progress you’ve made.