Published on 7th January, 2020


As 2020 sashays in, Hope, as it does every new year, tags resolutely along. Hope that this year will be better than the last, that wisdom really does come with age and, perhaps most importantly, that we’ll finally stick to those resolutions we’ve made.

But what exactly is it about the new year that makes us want to be better anyway? Tradition, likely. After all, we’ve had at least 4000 years to develop the habit. In fact, from as early as the ancient Babylonians, humans were going about making yearly promises of good conduct to various gods and goddesses. Whether or not they followed through with these promises, well, that’s another story. Resolutions are, after all, finicky creatures - easy to make but often difficult to keep.

Thankfully, unlike the ancient Babylonians, you have many therapeutic resources at your fingertips (and just in time, too)! Today, we present 4 effective, research-backed tips to help supercharge your motivation and crush your resolution goals this year.

Be Specific

In Lewis Caroll’s seminal work, “Alice In Wonderland”, a brief conversation between a very lost Alice and The Cheshire Cat goes thusly:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat. 'I don't much care where -' said Alice. 'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

Having a foggy idea of what exactly your goal is often becomes one of the biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to accomplishing resolutions. If you can’t measure your progress, how will you know if you’ve achieved your goals? A good resolution should be specific and measurable. For example, instead of a nebulous resolution of “Eat healthy”, consider a resolution like, “Eat a nutritious home-cooked meal at least once a week”. The latter is clear, specific and definitely easier to track.

Another example would be “Save more” versus “Save $500 a month”. Which would work better for you? The latter resolution allows you to actually track your progress and know when you’ve achieved your goals, which can be a lot more motivating than the vague promise of “Save more”.

Why does it matter

It’s great to want to be healthy or to save more. However, often times it’s not the ‘how’ that motivates us but the ‘why’.

Say you decide to stop smoking. Consider asking yourself ‘why’. Why is it so important that you are smoke-free in the first place? Does this resolution complement your values? Do you want to prove to yourself that you are a self-disciplined person? Or perhaps, you just want to be healthy enough to be around to take care of your children, to see your grandchildren grow up.

If your resolution is to exercise more, or rather, to run at least twice a week, there are probably going to be times where it may be difficult for you, as you struggle to pull yourself out of bed, to push yourself into going for that morning run. When you find your motivation and willpower flagging, it may be helpful for you to look up, look far and keep your eyes on the prize. Why did you choose this resolution? Do you want to be able to stay physically and mentally healthy for as long as possible, in order to be able to work on your career goals? Or is it because you love hiking and exploring in different parts of the world, and want to be able to do so without being limited by physical abilities?

Your resolutions are much more than a glorified to-do list. Remember what they actually mean for you and keep your mind on why you’ve set them in the first place.

Keep yourself motivated

You’ve probably heard the expression “You can tell a lot about a person by the company he/she keeps.” Similarly, you can also tell a lot about how well a person may keep to his/her resolutions by what they keep around them. Not as catchy a phrase, but accurate nonetheless.

This is about the concept of Stimulus Control – or simply, how people may behave in the presence, or absence, of certain objects, people, sounds, etc. To increase the likelihood of sticking to your new year’s resolutions, you could keep objects, people and visuals around you that serve to remind you of why your resolutions are important in the first place.

Do you want to get better at rock-climbing? Consider why it is it important for you. It could be because adventure is something you value deeply, and you hope to one day experience the thrill of free-climbing up the side of pristine cliffs overlooking crystal clear waters. In this case, you could paste photographs of your dream free-climbing location around your home. You could change the wallpaper for your phone to a nice photo of that one cliff you’d love to conquer. Place some holiday photos on the fridge, maybe even as the wallpaper of your work computer. Imagine enjoying the sunset from the peak of a serene cliff, accessible to you if you stick to your resolution of going bouldering at least once a week this year. Immerse yourself in reminders, embrace the ‘why’, and make your goal part of your routine.

It may be tough to keep to your resolutions, especially if they were new and unfamiliar to your routine. But give it some time, and set reasonable expectations for yourself. At the end of the day, sticking to your resolutions isn’t so much about making impressive, extreme lifestyle changes, which usually end up with you feeling burnt out. It is more about the little steps that you never stop taking, on the road towards betterment. Which brings me to the next tip.

Focus on progress, not results

As you embark on your journey into 2020, it is good to remind yourself that failure isn’t the end of the journey – it’s merely a part of it. It is an inevitable and inescapable part of every success story.

Perhaps you succumbed to that one unfortunate cigarette a mere week after resolving to quit. Instead of beating yourself up and lamenting about how you’ve never, and will never keep to your resolutions, consider focusing instead on the progress you’ve made.

Yes, you did have that cigarette. It’s normal to feel disappointed. But think about how long it has been since your last cigarette. Maybe you used to smoke a pack a day, and in that case, having held out for even half a week is still an accomplishment that needs to be celebrated, not buried. Giving in to that one stick does not mean that you’ve failed. It’s just an incident that could serve as a reminder that you can do better, and an opportunity to examine why you slipped up. Did you smoke that cigarette because you had a pint or two, and your friend offered you a cigarette at a time of low inhibition? Take note of why it happened, and change things around to minimise the likelihood of recurrence. You could ask your friends to help out by not offering cigarettes to you, or perhaps you could choose your beer sessions to be at indoor places where you cannot smoke without having to leave the premises.

The road to resolution success is hardly likely to be a breeze. It’s filled with pitfalls, swamps and all sorts of setbacks. You will trip, stumble and maybe even fall but take note of why, and keep on walking anyway. Even the tiniest step forward makes you a better person than you were yesterday.

On that note, here’s wishing you great determination and the ability to keep to your strategically crafted new year resolutions. Have a wonderful 2020.