Why we're wired to make New Year's resolutions

The New Year symbolises a definitive break from the old, giving us psychological permission to start anew. Picture: Unsplash/ Anastasia Shuraeva

The New Year symbolises a definitive break from the old, giving us psychological permission to start anew. Picture: Unsplash/ Anastasia Shuraeva

Published Dec 28, 2023


As the clock ticks down on December 31, many of us find ourselves penning a list of New Year's resolutions. This annual tradition taps into our love for fresh starts and new chapters.

But why do we leap at the opportunity to set these goals each year? Is it just the charm of a new calendar year, or is there more to this phenomenon?

When people want to change something in their lives, they often start at a temporal milestone, such as the beginning of a new semester. Management science experts refer to this as “the fresh-start effect”.

The fascination with fresh starts

As people, we are wired to seek out new beginnings. The allure of a clean slate is psychologically powerful. It's the reason we love the first of the month, or any marker that feels like a turning point.

The New Year symbolises a definitive break from the old, giving us psychological permission to start anew. It's a form of mental accounting where we close the books on our past selves and the previous year's mishaps.

New Year's resolutions are steeped in optimism. They are promises we make to ourselves, fuelled by the hope of what's possible. They allow us to believe, if only for a moment, that we can transform our lives.

This hope is a testament to our resilience and capacity for self-improvement. With each resolution, we're saying: "I have the power to change."

Societal pressure subtly nudges us toward making resolutions. When everyone around us is setting goals and sharing them, we're influenced by this collective enthusiasm.

The bandwagon effect plays a role here; we want to be part of the group, part of the conversation and not left behind in the pursuit of betterment.

New Year’s resolutions and growth

Ultimately, resolutions are about personal growth. They’re a reflection of our deep-seated desire to improve ourselves, whether it's to learn a new language, exercise more or save for the future.

By setting resolutions, we're indulging in a moment of introspection, focusing on what really matters to us.

However, it's one thing to make resolutions; it's another to keep them. So, how can we ensure that our good intentions transition into lasting change?

Turning resolutions into reality

Be specific.

Instead of "get fit", commit to "three gym sessions a week".

Start small.

Break big goals into manageable steps.

Hold yourself accountable.

Share your resolutions with friends or track progress in a journal.

Allow yourself to embrace mistakes.

Slip-ups are part of the journey. Learn from them and move on.

Celebrate your wins.

Reward yourself for milestones to stay motivated.

Here are a few specific New Year's resolution ideas across different areas of life. It's helpful to: Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) goals.

Health & Fitness

Exercise for at least 30 minutes, three days a week.

Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet.

Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

Personal development

Read a book a month.

Learn a new skill or hobby, such as playing a musical instrument or painting.

Practising meditation for 10 minutes daily will help you stay grounded in the face of adversity; to listen, not to react.


Create and stick to a monthly budget.

Save a certain percentage of your income each month, starting small at 10% of your salary.

Pay off a specific amount of debt.

Professional growth

Take an online course to improve your professional skills, Google offers relevant free short courses (for example, CS50's Introduction to Game Development, if you’re into gaming or it fascinates you).

Network with new professionals in your field each month.

Aim for a promotion or raise at work.

Social and relationships

Reconnect with an old friend each month.

Spend quality time with family or friends, weekly or once a month

Why do we not follow through with our New Year's resolutions? Research has identified several reasons:

Unrealistic goals

Many people set resolutions that are too ambitious or vague. Without a clear, achievable goal, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and give up.

No plan

Without a plan on how to reach objectives, it's hard to make progress. Effective resolutions need a strategy that outlines when, where and how you will take action.


The initial excitement can fade over time, especially when people don't see immediate results. Motivation can be further undermined by setbacks.

Too many changes at once

Trying to change several habits at once can be mentally and physically draining, making it harder to stick to any one change.

Lack of accountability

Without someone to share your goals, there's less pressure to stay committed. Accountability to a friend, family member or a support group can increase commitment.

Not keeping track of progress can lead to a loss of direction and awareness of improvement, making it easier to abandon the effort.

There's power in putting pen to paper and committing to a change. Make this new beginning count, one small step at a time.