A Fresh Start: Reduce stress and make New Years Resolutions Stick

31 Dec 2016 Uncategorized

Reduce Stress and Bring About Positive Life Changes: How to Make New Year Resolutions that Stick

Whilst I sip on my virgin Mojito packed with fresh mint and lime, I am ready to turn up the heat and embrace change.  I am going to be healthier and wiser, stress less and socialise more, and make more of an effort with the important people in my life.  I’ll be more engaged and increasingly efficient at work, but still make time to take on new and exciting hobbies, projects and adventure. I will finally make more time for me.  Yes, it is time to shake the stress off from this year and welcome the new year with open arms.

For many of us, the fare-welling of a year to make room for a new and improved year is not an uncommon ritual. In a sense, the celebrations and rituals of the New Years Resolutions give us an  opportunity for self-initiated changes.

Reinventing and growing yourself is like shedding an old cloak, well-worn and in need of replacing. It’s challenging yet therapeutic, and there’s often no better time than at an important change of time – a seasonal change, a birthday or the turning of time into a New Year.

You may have loved the cloak, or hated it, but either way – old habits that do not serve your mental, physical or social health NEED TO GO, no matter what.

Why bother? Do New Year’s Resolutions actually work?  How to make New Years Resolutions that Stick.

New Year’s Resolutions are often a great way to reflect and re-evaluate some of your life choices. It’s also a way to help you learn to decrease stress by mapping out where you want to make your biggest changes.  New Year’s Resolutions have become a cultural and psychological ritual for many people. Interestingly, most of us tend to make the same resolutions each year.   In fact, according to Psychologsist and behavioural change expert,  John Norcross and his colleagues (2002), over 40-50 percent of people annually make New Year’s Resolutions.

The most common New Years resolutions are around health changes: exercise, quit smoking and weight loss.

I have personally found it has only been when I have been truly ready to change a behaviour that a New Year’s Resolutions has come to fruition.

The Psychology of Change – 5 key components to successful changes

# 1:  Recognising the need to change (acknowledging how current patterns of behaviour or thinking are NOT helping you reach your dreams or goals)

# 2:  Being willing to change (essentially this is “Readiness to change“)

# 3:  Understanding the upside of change i.e., making a list of the potential rewards of changing your behaviours or thought patterns

#4:  Planning to START on a specific date and sticking to it – or better yet, beginning immediately.

#5:  Sticking with the changes for a minimum of 21 and ideally 45 to 60 days  – at which time you may not even remember what it felt like before you changed.

Why resolutions are easy to make, but sometimes difficult to maintain

There is a reason why people make and break resolutions in short order.  The main reason appears to relates to a tendency called False Hope Syndrone (Polivy, J & Herman, P, 2002). We sometimes believe the change we set for ourselves is going to be easy and effortless.  When we set high expectation that aren’t actually realistic, or have too short a time frame to achieve them, we may set ourselves up to fail before we begin.  It’s often better to set several baby steps and give yourself enough time to get there, so that you’ll know you’re ‘winning’ in your New Year, New You self-improvement and change management strategies.

(Click to read more about the False Hope Syndrome).

New Years Resolutions and Weight Loss

The dieting industry thrives of False Hope Syndrome and makes big promises for people to lose weight fast.

Getting back in shape and losing weight are often at the top of most of our lists each New Year when we’re making resolutions.  Yet if we approach our “getting a new body” regimes in an overly optimistic – or rather, unrealistic – way, we’re apt to be disappointed, and can even feel like giving up entirely.  It’s too easy to throw in the towel when you set yourself up for unrealistic time frames or weight loss goals.

How to avoid False Hope Syndrome

7 Tips to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

  1. Address any barriers to the resolution sticking (negative mindset, external conflicts, lack opportunity, excessive goals and/or not-linked to values).  FEAR of failure is the most common barrier, and needs to faced first – as this fear will be the basis of whether you feel or believe you can change your behaviour or thought patterns.
  2. Prepare for action. Focus on one resolution at a time; and set a realistic goal around something that you have spent time contemplating and have decided you are READY and WILLING to change or overcome.
  3. Action leads to change.
  4. Keep returning to a positive statement that you can identify with: e.g “Anyone can talk about changing, I am taking the steps to change.”
  5. Keep a diary log. Remind yourself – a resolution deserve respect. You are changing a behaviour and it takes commitment, time and energy, before it becomes a habit.
  6. Don’t do it alone. Weekly check-ins with a support buddy is invaluable. A great opportunity to reflect and report your high and lows relating to your resolution.
  7. Maintenance – ensure gains made are maintained through reflection and rewards, otherwise new behaviour can be distinguished and old behaviour resurfaced.


“I am currently working to achieve my optimal weight of 65 kilograms, which means I working on loosing 15 kilograms.  I have already lost 7 kiolograms and am no longer struggling  with the effort to change my eating behaviour.  One thing that has helped me each week is to celebrate my success between milestones.  I have enjoyed focusing on my new healthy relationship with food.  Food continues to be a source of pleasure for me, but I no longer need to over-indulge, I am loving savoring my food and respecting my body. This means I have had to change my behaviour at the supermarket, when I go out  and how I actually eat my food in the moment, mindfully.  I am not depriving my body, but refueling it. I still eat chocolate most days but no longer stuff it down but enjoy the eating experience slowly with appreciation.  I have got myself into the habit of kindly but firmly say to myself “that’s enough when I have had a 1-2 pieces of chocolate.”

Blog Themes:

  • New Years Resolution

  • Stress

  • Change

  • Self-help

  • Psychology

  • Mental health

    Contributor: Nicole Plotkin is the principal psychologist at the Emotional Health Centre, who works with individuals and workplaces to enhance wellness through team based resilience, mental health and stress management training programs and individual counselling sessions.