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Why do people make New Year’s resolutions?

New Year’s Day is the most popular time of the year for people to hit the proverbial “reset button.” Some resolve to lose weight, while others hope to spend more time with family and friends. But what is it about the New Year that brings hope for such change and why do people make resolutions?

Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed., CEAP, RYT, a facilitator at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares his thoughts.

“I think most people want a second chance to improve the quality of their lives,” says Buttimer. “The New Year offers a blank slate — an opportunity to get things right. When we set New Year’s resolutions, we are utilizing a very important concept called self-efficacy, which means that by virtue of aspiring to a goal and following through on it, I have a sense of control over what's happening in my life.”

Why are New Year’s resolutions so hard to keep?

When you set a resolution and begin to follow through on it, you trigger a very powerful “neuro-hormone” in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers and regulates emotional responses. Though dopamine levels are high as you set out to accomplish your resolution, they eventually drop.

“If you don't have a structure in place to keep you motivated, the behavior you are engaging in will tend to trail off,” he says.

Breaking a resolution can cause some people to doubt themselves and ultimately stop working toward their goals.   

“One of the biggest obstacles to success is self-criticism,” Buttimer says. “You might think you need a good swift kick to motivate yourself. But it actually has the exact opposite effect. It doesn't fortify you at all.”

How to keep your New Year’s resolution

So how can you keep your resolutions this year? Buttimer recommends the following:

  • Seek support from others. Ask your friends and family to cheer you on. Let them know your goals and what you would like to accomplish.

  • Create a reward system for yourself. Set short-term goals and reward yourself for meeting them.

  • Have compassion for yourself. No one is perfect. Instead of beating yourself up, take a deep breath and keep trying.

See more health and wellness tips from Living Better experts.

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