Psychology of Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions

If there’s something you don’t want to commit to this year, include it in your new year’s resolutions. I guess this is something that could sum up how we actually treat and sticking to new year’s resolutions after making them. They are known not to stick and until we don’t change the way we make them, they are going to keep failing us. We’ll keep failing. If the habits we want to break out of are not wanted and are not making us feel good, then why are they so hard to get out of and why is sticking to new year’s resolutions so hard?

Sticking to new year’s resolutions doesn’t break habits and comfort zones

Habits are heard to break because we develop them for a reason. We generally don’t want to make disruptions in our lives and want to stick to living in our comfort zones, however uncomfortable they might be. But because we see that our habits are generally not making us happy, we try to get rid of them making new year’s resolutions.

New year’s resolutions are, therefore, conscious tries to break unwanted habits. Making these resolutions seems an easier way to endure the pain and discomfort that follows once we start sticking to whatever we have “resolved” to stick to. But it never seems to be the case—even when the habits we want to break out of are essentially making us feel bad.

New year’s resolutions are promises and promises are broken

The problem with sticking to new year’s resolutions is in the fact that resolutions are promises and not decisions.

This might seem like a negligible difference, but it is not. New year’s resolutions are promises we make to ourselves and try to commit to and not conscious decisions we would make. Psychologically it is so significant that it makes the difference between giving it up after some time or sticking to it.

Putting it in lay terms, the promises to ourselves are made from the inner child part of our psyche and are made to the parental introject par of us—meaning that we make a promise to ourselves and decide to endure the pain of sticking to it. This creates internal conflict and emotional discomfort. As we all know children are not good at sticking to things that feel bad and uncomfortable, so it’s only a matter of time when the discomfort of this internal conflict will get so uncomfortable that we will succumb to old habit again. That’s when we will usually break the “promise to ourselves” and then feel guilty—just as a child would when they let their parents down.

Making new year’s resolutions into decisions

It is only when we make a decision that we will actually be making a significant shift in our psyche—such that is likely to last. That’s when we will decide something and not make a promise to ourselves. This is essential when it comes to the question of sticking to new year’s resolutions.

A decision is made for an autonomous adult part of our psyche and, hence, does not cause internal conflict between two conflicting parts of ourselves. When we decide something, is also more likely that we will carry it through. Not because we just merely decided it, but because we will not use one part of our psyche to think about how to ditch the resolution and the other part of psyche to force ourselves the other way. Such process uses a lot of emotional energy and also causes stress and discomfort. Making a decision is in fact quite liberating to a person. When it is made, it frees us of internal conflict and liberates us emotionally.

But it’s not always that simple and easy.

Self-soothing and addiction

Sometimes our habits will have a deeper and more archaic origin. We will develop them because our needs are not met—from whatever aspect of our lives. Sometimes we will find ourselves in chronic emotional deficiency, lacking authentic human satisfaction of emotional needs. That’s when self-soothing comes into place.

Have you ever had that feeling of total emptiness in your stomach with an urge to eat something—even if you knew you were full? It might have been fear that you were not even consciously aware of. Or any other similar thing you needed to do to soothe yourself in a stressful situation?

What this goes to show is that some habits might be more deeply engrained and of more archaic origin than might seem at first glance. It’s important to not beat ourselves up when resolutions to give them up, or even adult decisions, don’t do the trick. For people experiencing mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, it might be especially important to address their habits in psychotherapy or counselling.

From bad habits to addiction

If we are not meeting some of our emotional needs, the soothing process can become pathological and instead of meeting such emotional needs in healthy ways, we will meet hem in ways that might feel they work but will in fact be pathological—i.e. bad habits and even addiction. Such habits can range from anything like alcohol and drug addiction, to excessive sports and physical exercise, overeating or over-consciousness of what we eat, gambling, workaholic behaviour, excessive or compulsive shopping, and a range of others.

These habits or even addictions should not be undermined. Some of them can be as innocent as hanging out with the wrong crow, going into unhealthy relationships or finding our refuge online, where social media addiction is a growing concern.

Bad habits or addiction can evoke guilt or even shame

Usually we will not feel good when we do these things and will feel feelings of guilt or even shame when we succumb to addictive behaviour or bad habits.

And it is precisely the guilt we feel that will often be the main stimulus for us to make new year’s resolutions and give up the bad habits or addictions. However, because these addictions have a soothing effect, they will not go just by a promise to ourselves. Sticking to new year’s resolutions can only be accomplished by substituting the bad habits and addictions and, hence, meeting our emotional needs in other ways—preferably healthy ones.

You might say that sometimes resolutions you make will go beyond bad habits or addiction—i.e. promising to ourselves that we will be better to people around us, work less, work out more, tell our loved ones we love them and similar everyday kind of habits. But when you think of it—can we really do all this just by saying it or do we actually need to change ourselves inside to live by the rules we decided upon.

My view is that we need to live by them and we can only do that by changing ourselves inside—by personal development, therapy, self-reflection. And if we change inside, we will also find ourselves changing our habits on basis of adult decisions and not regretting it in the end.