A Resolution Check

We’re almost into the third month of the year and most people have already started to slack on their New Years resolutions or abandoned them completely. I myself found I had started doing just that, slacking in small ways that I know could lead me to abandon the resolution all together.

Why do we almost inevitably abandon our hopes of living improved lives? A study from 2016 published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, led by Kaitlin Woolley from Cornell University and Ayelet Fishbach from University of Chicago, focused on the resolutions of New Yorkers.

An important observation made by the study is this, participants believe that both enjoyment and importance play a vital role in whether they stick to resolution or not. The researchers found in fact that it was just the enjoyment factor that really mattered.

This meant that immediate rewards and satisfaction from new habits would decide whether or not people would stick to their resolutions.

This speaks to choosing resolutions that are right for you and then going about them in ways that motivate, excite or inspire you.

Another study published in the Journal of Nature and Science looked into why health related resolutions are most frequently started and then failed.

It looks at how despite the fact that we are given more than adequate reasoning as to why health improvements are necessary, we still choose against the benefits by choosing an easy, pleasurable way out. According the the study, the true difficulty lies in choosing between what we want to do and what we should do.

This means we need to switch up the vocabulary we use to convince our brain that these resolutions are something we ‘will’ do, rather than something we ‘should’ do.

The word “should” takes away our agency and portrays the “absence of decision”. When we say we “will” do something we are saying we have already chosen to do that thing. This makes us feel in control as we have consciously decided we “will” do something instead of feeling like we’re being forced when we say we “should” do something.

In my own experience I have also found that setting realistic expectations of myself and my existing ability helps a ton. For example, if I want to improve my observational drawing I could strive to sketch from observation for just 15min a day, rather than deciding that today and everyday onwards I will complete a whole A2 sketch of the Union Buildings. I’m sure it’s possible but for me and my situation it would be unrealistic and an activity of frustration.

Using the 15min sketch time daily I could build up to larger works over time as I work on getting my eye in.

Another rule I’ve set for myself is that I don’t really set New Years resolutions. I don’t see the point in waiting till next January to start a new habit. I also don’t set rigid goals for myself, against which I could judge my success. Rather I move forward in a specific direction based on my values. This way I can work towards improving myself in line with my values without the technical stress of constantly reviewing a structured set of goals.

However this being said it is important to really visualize where you want to be as well as how you’re going to get there and writing these things down can really help. So when I say I don’t generally set goals I am referring to the structured review plans and step-by-step, breath-by-breath guides and progress charts that too often draw me away from my focus. Rather I write down a list of things I want to accomplish or improve and put it somewhere I can see it often. I then plan my days in accordance without the stress of reaching calculated steps or criteria. Rather I pray as hard as I can, I work as hard as I can, while trying to make the best daily decisions in line with who I want to be.

Lastly if we do fail whatever it is we set out to do. We need to try again, for as that saying goes, “we only truly fail when we stop trying”. Fail again. Fail better. Next January you’ll thank yourself. I know I have.


  • Choose to implement resolutions in a way that makes them enjoyable
  • Decide that you “will” do something, don’t tell yourself that you “should” do something
  • Be realistic
  • Keep your values in mind when setting resolutions
  • Fail better


FAIL Better

S.E Iso-Ahola, 2017, Journal of Nature and Science Available at: http://jnsci.org/files/html/2017/e384.htm
L.Dodgson, 2018, The psychology behind why we’re so bad at keeping New Year’s resolutions. Business Insider.

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