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Why February Is a Better Month for Resolutions

Jan. 26, 2023 Psychology Today

It’s a month into the new year, so how are your resolutions looking? Kudos to those who’ve kept to their new goals and there’s hope for the rest of us, too. 

January represents new beginnings. Whether it’s by instinct or force of habit, we set new resolutions at the beginning of the year. More recently, there’s been a move to take a wider lens and set new intentions, referring to a bigger-picture idea of what we want to change. Either way, by now there are many resolutions that have already failed and many of those January 1stoptimists are now full of self-recrimination. We should put the brakes on that, though. Feeling we’re hopeless at changing, lazy, or worse, will keep us stuck in that behavior and certainly won’t help in getting us nearer to our goals. 

Why did we fail to stick with our shiny new resolutions? The step that we’re often missing, the vital step without which we’re not exactly doomed to failure but definitely making things too hard for ourselves, is clear-eyed reflection—beforehand. 

Most resolutions are not blinding new ideas we’ve had. Most are about making changes we’ve been considering for a while, maybe correcting some bad habits we’ve slipped into over time. As such, we’re often aiming to change habits that are entrenched. To make these alterations successfully, we need more than a dewy-eyed hopeful focus on New Year’s Day.

This was brought home to me a few years ago, one November, when I came across an unmarked manilla envelope in my desk drawer. Inside, I read some old resolutions. 

Each year, our family gets together to share our resolutions, and one time I was using my family as guinea pigs (nothing new there) and asked them to put their commitments down on paper. On re-reading, I was rather disappointed to realize that the resolutions I had been mulling over for this coming year would be exactly the same as last year. I was even more appalled when it dawned on me that the resolutions were not a year old, but two. Now, I do have some resolutions that remain more or less constant year in and year out: eat less sugar, exercise more, etc. but I thought I usually made effective progress on the stand-alone projects. The evidence of the failed intentions, goals, and objectives, all written in irrefutable ink, was more sobering than a “dry January”. 

No surprise though. Our habits are habits for a reason—they are truly engrained in us. We are often told that “we are what we do,” that our behaviors are hard-wired to us through well-worn neural pathways and, often, emotional attachments or specific meanings. As such, no early January resolution or intention will shift them without some good, hard thinking about what keeps us stuck in certain behaviors. Unfortunately, the end of the year being what it is—busy and rushed—we have little time to properly reflect on what surrounding beliefs and actions hold us in place before setting ourselves up for likely failure a few weeks into the new year.

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