New Year, New Me: Are New Year’s resolutions a good idea?

Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 10:39 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The new year is just underway and for many, this is a time to make a change and look at improving ourselves.

New Year’s resolutions fall in and out of fashion like many things, but gyms are oftentimes suddenly packed on Jan. 1.

In an already stress-filled world, does it make sense to make New Year’s resolutions?

“I would say the answer is a tentative yes,” University of Alaska Anchorage Psychology Professor Robert Boeckmann said.

Boeckmann explained that studies show only about 46% of people who make New Year’s resolutions claim to be successful.

“Which means, you know, more than half aren’t,” Boeckmann said. “If you go a little deeper — people who want to change but don’t make a resolution — only 4% of those people actually make the change. So on balance, it’s definitely worth it to make a New Year’s resolution if you’re serious about changing.”

Boeckmann said that some people experience less success with following through on resolutions by making spur-of-the-moment changes that attempt to fix everything at once.

“You don’t pick five or six resolutions you pick one or two, best only one,” Boeckmann said.

He also says to really think about the change you want to make.

“Strong attitudes have lots of supporting beliefs, but sometimes people haven’t really thought about it much. They have ‘oh, yeah, it’s a good idea to stop drinking, or cut back on drinking,’ or ‘it’s a good idea to use my cell phone less’ and that’s about it. There’s not much in the thought category there,” Boeckmann said. “But if they spend the weeks approaching New Year’s Eve, in contemplation, like, what are all the good reasons why I should engage in this change — and then also examine the feelings — what do I feel about this change, and then also examine the feelings. What do I feel about this change, am I afraid of it, do I think it’s a good idea? If you have mixed feelings, that’s a less strong attitude than if you have consistent feelings.”

After all, as he says, resolutions are about being resolute. You have to want to make the change.

“It’s very difficult to change. I mean, that’s stating the obvious, right?” Boeckmann said. He says be ready for set backs and plan to fail.

“One of the things that happens — and these are the people who fall in that didn’t make it group — is they engage in some kind of catastrophic thinking, like, ‘Oh, I didn’t go to the gym this week,’ or ‘oh, I had a beer and I meant to cut that out, and then I failed. This, I knew I couldn’t do it.’ And they give in and they quit trying to give up on their goals maybe next year, right?” Boeckmann said. “So it’s better to plan to have some setbacks, and then use those setbacks as a learning opportunity.”

Studies show one of the best ways to succeed is to write about it.

“I would say there’s plenty of psychological evidence to support this, keeping a journal or writing things down is important,” Boeckmann said.

In that journal, write how you’re doing.

“You’re reflecting yourself, like, what progress have I made this week? What setbacks did I have? What I learned from my setbacks, and really keeping a conscious engagement of it throughout the year,” Boeckmann said. “It’s very important to acknowledge that we’re not perfect, acknowledge that we are going to stumble and struggle.”

An extended interview with Dr. Boeckmann is available on the In Depth Alaska podcast.