The Quad: Bruins reflect on New Year’s resolutions, strategies to sustain them
(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations Director)
By Nicole Wu
Jan. 20, 2022 3:19 p.m.
Raise your hand if you made New Year’s resolutions this year. Now lower your hand if at least one of those resolutions has gone out the window by now.
New Year’s resolutions are a common tradition when ringing in the new year, but it’s often difficult to sustain them until a new one rolls around. This year, Bruins weighed in on these potential pitfalls when making resolutions and how to combat them with realistic mindsets.
Psychology professor Robert M. Bilder said that New Year’s resolutions can be a good way to lay out values and long-term goals in order to see how they can line up with one’s actions.
“It turns out that that’s a key to human happiness and sustained happiness is aligning your actions with your long-term values and goals,” Bilder said.
First-year psychobiology student Erika Nguyen said her 2022 resolutions came from reflecting on the past year, both in how she’s grown and what she wants to improve upon in the year to come.
“For me, when you go into a new year, it’s really just something that you want to focus on when you carry on with your normal life because your life isn’t changed itself – you’re still going to school or going to work,” Nguyen said. “But I think with the new year’s resolution, it’s just a different perspective on that same life you’ve been living.”
Nguyen said that the new year is an especially helpful benchmark for seeing how she is doing in life.
“If we didn’t have years or months or whatever, and if time was just one long thing, you probably wouldn’t really reflect much. And I think with the new year, it’s just a great way to … just stop and think, ‘What did I do this year, and what do I want to continue to do in the next year?’” Nguyen said.
Third-year psychology student Yelyzaveta Nechay said New Year’s resolutions can encourage self-improvement without the need to involve other people or purchase lessons.
“It’s just the basic promise to yourself that is supposed to help you to achieve your goals,” Nechay said.
Even though New Year’s resolutions are helpful methods in self-improvement and goal-setting, Bilder said that one of the biggest challenges is making sure the means of achieving these resolutions are realistic, healthy and beneficial. He said losing weight is a common resolution that can sometimes provoke a separate set of problems.
“Somebody might focus just on becoming dehydrated, and they’re going to be weighing less, but that could be actually a great risk to their health, or they may starve themselves,” Bilder said. “There’s lots of ways that that can go wrong when taking dangerous medications or treatments or herbal remedies that could be actually damaging or dangerous in the service of trying to achieve a goal that isn’t what they wanted to achieve.”
Bilder said that it is critical to set goals that are realistic and achievable.
“I think that people get inspired by some of the big ideas, but they don’t have the action plan modest enough to make it achievable … in a way that assures that it’ll get cemented in and will continue,” Bilder said.
Nechay said that she likes to create steps within bigger goals to help boost her confidence along the way. She said that her ultimate goal is to be independent and support herself financially, which breaks down into smaller steps like studying, earning her bachelor’s degree and working on her career.
“If it’s something huge, it’s impossible to do it in one jump,” Nechay said. “And if you make yourself do it and you fail, it’s going to make you feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a loser.’ … You don’t achieve things like that.”
Bilder said that one way to make resolutions more manageable is by linking your resolution to some other daily activity that is already built into habits.
“As it turns out, almost all behavior change is based on changing habits,” Bilder said. “The bottom line is, as exciting as we all like to think we are, and (as) novel and wild and crazy as we may like to think of ourselves, we tend to be driven by habit.”
Another method that can help in achieving resolutions, Bilder said, is called behavioral activation theory.
“The key goal of doing the technique is to determine what are your long-term values, your big goals, and then link them back specifically to immediate action, something you can do within the next day that’s achievable and that you’re going to succeed at,” Bilder said. “Because it’s only when you succeed at performing a particular task that you’re going to increase the likelihood of doing it again.”
Nechay said that no matter how big a goal may look, it is important not to dwell on past failures.
“Our thoughts are our biggest friends and biggest enemies as well because only you can convince yourself you can do something, and only you can convince yourself that you can’t do something,” Nechay said. “No matter how huge (your goal) looks, you still have to convince yourself, ‘Oh, no, but I deserve it. I can do it.’”