New year, new me? Why year-round resolutions work for some but not for others

Photo and art by Madeleen Saguid/ THE FLAME

A NEW year marks a new beginning and a number of people try to start it right by scribbling their resolutions in calendars and journals.

While people around her welcome the New Year with cheers and high hopes, Sydney Averia, a Thomasian third-year medical technology student, embraced it not with a giddy leap but with caution.

Year after year, Averia has made overcoming her social anxiety her personal Mount Everest, making it the top item in her meticulous list of resolutions.

Yet, the summit remained unconquered as she struggled with consistency. So, this year, she pushed herself to revise her formula for crafting new year’s resolutions.

The first order of business is to not focus on a specific target but on a vague yet all-encompassing ambition: to be “better.” Because of this change, simple acts like exchanging smiles with peers and ordering a meal she craves without guilt will already be considered triumphs.

“I could not eat food that I wanted, and it made me sad, gravely affecting my physical and mental health,” Averia said.

“If I only set my New Year’s resolution as [just] losing weight, I wouldn’t be as motivated,” she added.

Sophia Dineros, a fourth-year accountancy student, was also demotivated to fulfill her resolutions due to sudden changes in her life over the past months. While she did not specify these changes, she revealed that they have caused her to disconnect from reality and deviate from her goals.

According to Dineros, a positive mindset in achieving her goals became her strategy to realign her focus into creating more “productive and meaningful habits.”

For instance, she tried to step out of her comfort zone by setting aside her reservations and saying, “Let’s do this!” to her friends. She considered it a “good stepping stone” in improvement, hoping to achieve these resolutions by the end of the year.

Different strokes for different folks

The inability of individuals like Averia and Dineros to fully achieve their year-end resolutions is a common phenomenon among the youth, according to Maria Vida Caparas, a psychologist and UST behavioral science associate professor. They feel the dwindling of such resolutions as they navigate the daily challenges of student life.

“These unfulfilled resolutions leave people incomplete and unaccomplished to a certain extent,” Caparas said.

Although feeling unaccomplished and demotivated due to unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions is expected to a certain extent, UST psychology instructor Rudy Danganan said wishes are not unfamiliar to human beings. He noted that being goal-oriented is innate within everyone.

“[Having a New Year’s resolution] is just another way of manifesting the basic human tendency to move toward completion,” Danganan said.

According to Danganan, human beings innately want to achieve something, manifested ever since infancy as they crawl, walk, roll over, and eventually run and jump as they grow up. Although goals change as people age, the desire for accomplishment never disappears.

People are already accustomed to these forms of change as they often develop new habits and behaviors, Danganan said.

The human brain, the psychology instructor added, is drawn towards certainty and predictability which makes habits necessary; therefore, people tend to choose the “easier pathway” to achieve something rather than put more effort into learning and doing something.

While there is no assurance that one will get what he wishes for, Danganan said one thing is certain: “We all have motivation – [the] drive that directs our behaviors.”

Toward the ‘new me’

Danganan and Caparas said it is understandable for one to dream of conquering a challenge but get lost in vague aspirations. To address such a scenario, they suggested setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals.

According to them, a goal must be specific to define an aspiration clearly; measurable to allow one to track progress; attainable so one can tone down ambitions; relevant or aligned with personal values and principles; time-bound to remind one of its urgency.

According to Danganan, this set of goals based on Edwin Locke and Gary Latham’s Goal-Setting Theory is essential in achieving New Year’s resolutions. Those who employed SMART goals “were twice as successful as those who imprecisely thought about what they wanted to accomplish.”

Instead of merely wishing to get high grades, Danganan said it is best to specify what grade students want to achieve and how many days a week they will study.

“A specific goal would say, ‘Garner a GPA of at least 1.60, and study three days a week.’ Every goal also needs a deadline; this will motivate and help you focus toward your goal,” he added.

Danganan said creating specific dates and times on their dues, instead of saying a more indefinite “later,” would also help students organize their hierarchy of priorities.

According to Caparas,  specific resolutions  make people “more fulfilled, satisfied, and gratified.”

She said people should remember these two words as they drive their way to their New Year’s resolutions: discipline and determination. If these traits are not sustained, these resolutions would remain as a mere verbal promise to individuals who aspire to change.

“As we reflect back, we are reminded of these unattended and unfulfilled resolutions, leaving us incomplete and unaccomplished to a certain extent,” Caparas said. F

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