The beginning of a new year brings with it an exciting vibe. Whatever has happened in the past year somehow seems forgivable and the new year promises so many varied possibilities, so many unexplored opportunities and a sense of excitement for the unknown. Anna Schaffner, a cultural historian, calls this the “Fresh start effect”. According to her, our minds perceive time in chapters. Whenever there is a division of time, there is a feeling of a fresh start. This helps create a psychological distance from the previous failures and promises a new beginning.  

It is with this excitement, that many of us make a list of ambitious new year resolutions…..which within the next few days or months fizzle out into a slack routine very much similar to the previous year.

The excitement of the year seems to fade away under a pile of work, commitments and binge watching of netflix or mindless internet surfing. Once the descent into sameness is complete, we resign ourselves to fate and decide to renew our resolutions the year after. And so, the cycle continues.

Last week, I was reading a book called “Four thousand weeks” by Oliver Burkeman. A major realization that this book brought me was that we have only “4000 weeks of living”, if we live till eighty! The other was that I have emptied 2000 of mine! The remaining time struck me as a very short span in which to live the life of my dreams. This also reiterated the importance of setting proper new year resolutions so that at least a few of these plans materialised!

By experience, I knew that making the resolutions would be the easy part. Sticking to them, the difficult one.

A mixture of  some psychology, internet self help gyaan and common sense gave me some inputs as to how to set up resolutions logically. So this year, instead of sharing how I would like to spend my 2022, I thought I could share a few thoughts on how we all can make and keep our resolutions for a happier, healthier and more fulfilling 2022. Here goes: 

  1. Setting tiny goals which lead to a big one.

Most resolutions are lofty in nature. We know that we have to lose weight, watch less TV, be more focused, procrastinate less etc etc. But unless we quantify the “how much” and “when”, we tend to slack at the slightest pretext. In his book “Atomic habits”, James Clear explains that when we start small, it is usually easy for the brain to stick to a schedule. If it does not seem like a gargantuan task, then the chances are higher that we get it done fast. Instead of reading a book a day, if we can stick to reading for twenty minutes of the day, everyday, more progress is made. Basically, what sounds easy and feels easy, becomes easy to stick to. So, rather than committing to reading 100 books a year, it would be easier to keep twenty minutes of the day dedicated to practising the reading habit. Maybe we could do more books than we originally planned! 

An acronym for goal setting which describes this aptly would be that the goal should be SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound for it to succeed.


        2. Setting goals with intrinsic motivation.

When we set goals for social acceptability or because we get motivated by watching someone else do it, the goals somehow become easy to give up.  Only the  resolutions that we feel passionate about or bring some meaning into our lives can be held on to. This is the reason why a lot of gym memberships go wasted every year. Make sure the goal is about yourself and for yourself. Even committing to charitable work, would work only when we feel that it makes a difference to our happiness and health. 


          3. Working on inner change, rather than achievements.

Enjoy the journey as much as the destination. If learning to play the guitar is the goal, then wanting to attend guitar classes should become an enjoyable experience. Pushing  ourselves against will would work for a short while, but the mind keeps finding excuses to give up on the activity. Finally it becomes a battle between the “will” and the “like”. If “will power” wins the first few battles, it is usually the  “like” which wins the war. Instead, if we try to enjoy the process (and sometimes the pain) the “will” and the “like” end up working together and the success is ours to keep!

 As the old adage goes, “no pain, no gain”. Once the early resistance to disciplining ourselves disappears, the process becomes more meaningful and enjoyable. This results in a small but significant change in our personality which makes the whole exercise more meaningful. I may not lose the ten kilos that I promised myself but exercising will become a part of my personality which leads to long term good health.


          4. Limiting the number of goals.

When planning for the new year, it feels as though it is easy to change our whole personality with a long list of goals. But the longer the list, the higher the chances of failure. Instead, it would be great to prioritize. Choose a few resolutions for a particular year. We then get enough time to sink our teeth into the few but important activities, which makes the activity become more fulfilling.


            5. Accountability.

Despite our best efforts, there are times when we flounder and want to give up on everything. So, sharing our intentions or involving others in our resolutions, makes it obligatory to stick to them. We put ourselves in a position where it becomes difficult to give up. This can help us out through the difficult phase, and getting back on track becomes easier. 

When we set our resolutions with these mantras in mind, we may be able to use our four thousand weeks on this earth meaningfully and bring a lot of our plans to fruition. Remember, what the new year brings us will depend a great deal on what we bring into the new year.

Wishing all of you a very happy year ahead!

About the Author

Preethi Shanbhag


My name is Preethi Shanbhag. I am a psychiatrist and a mother. In my free time I love to read, write, travel and cook.

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