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Why you need to take time over your New Year’s resolutions

Writing resolutions on a notebook
As the year comes to a close, people start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. It’s a time for self-reflection and re-focussing. But, what do we actually mean by self-reflection and re-focus and how can we maximise its effectiveness to help us achieve our goals?
Dr Harbinder Sandhu is a Health Psychologist and Associate Professor from Warwick Medical School, who specialises in behaviour change, health and wellbeing, working towards positive habitual behaviours and breaking addiction. She has also worked with professional athletes in setting and achieving goals. She shares a few tips for healthy self-reflection and successful goal-setting.

New Years resolutions, we’ve all made them and we’ve all broken them. It’s admirable to make a resolution to change our ways but these promises are often made with expectations that are difficult to reach. We often set huge personal changes focussing on something we really don’t like about ourselves, so it’s loaded from the start. Often we end up reflecting only on what we perceive as our failures - the disappointment we may have felt and the difficult challenges we faced – and this will undoubtedly lead to negative emotions like frustration, anger or guilt to name a few. It is while we are felling such emotions that we then begin setting new resolutions, such as ‘next year, I’ll definitely change my diet and will lose weight…. next year is the year, a new me….’ and so on which can be driven by an underlying disappointment. However this reactive approach could lead to setting unrealistic targets and not having the correct resources in place to achieve them, and so the cycle continues.

Healthy self-reflection

You can make self-reflection positive and productive. Every experience is an opportunity to learn whether it be good or bad, helpful or unhelpful. As well as reflecting on goals that may not have been achieved, take a moment to reflect on the journey, the learning, the discovery, the small things that you did accomplish, the ability to manage the unexpected and the strength to have made it through the year. Taking a few moments out of the busy festive period to really explore these emotions, thoughts and feelings and then learning how to channel them in a productive way to set new goals will help you understand yourself better and set you on the road to success next year.

From a behaviour to a habit

Habit forming through a behaviour change is a goal many strive to achieve. The term habit refers to a process where contextual cues will prompt actions automatically learned through prior performance. For example brushing teeth is a behaviour that is introduced in childhood, and through repetition, routine and consistency this becomes a habit and is quite resistant to change. There have been observations of habit forming behaviours in the use of smart phones to check emails and social media – how often do you check your phone without even thinking about it? We know through decades of research and application that habits are formed through repetitive performance to a state where association is no longer driven solely by motivation or interest. It takes on average two months for a healthy behaviour change to become a healthy habit.

But how do we start to build repetitive healthy behaviours? Research in the field suggests key factors to consider are:

  • Motivation: Is the change important or meaningful to you and why?
  • Monitoring changes: Keep an eye on your progress and recognise challenges and successes through reflection and feedback.
  • Have the materials and resources: Make sure you have the kit you need for success. This might be a physical thing – like a cupboard full of the right ingredients for healthy homemade meals. It might be psychological – feeling you have the time and the ability to cook the meal.
  • Monitor outcomes: Celebrate reaching your goals. This is not just about the long haul. The interim short term gains are important as well.

The key to success when it comes to achieving goals is a greater understanding of behaviour change, and what drives this and setting goals that are realistic and achievable for you. So as 2019 comes to an end, take the time to reflect and refocus and do it with a level of self-awareness. Focus on the journey, the experiences and what you can do differently next year. Re-assess your motivation and values - what is important to you and why? Focus on healthy habit forming and be open to learn techniques to achieve these.



19 December 2019


Dr Harbinder SandhuDr Harbinder Sandhu combines her clinical role as a Health Psychologist and her academic research in the area of behavioural change interventions in the management of long term pain. She is involved in designing, leading, collaborating, publishing and dissemination of results in a range of studies which incorporate mixed methodologies.

Her research interests include: health and wellbeing, communication in healthcare and application of health psychology in the design of complex interventions for behaviour change in the management of long term conditions.

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