New Year’s Resolutions and the Science Behind Them


Art/Photo by Sullivan Kolakowski

It’s time to write your New Year’s Resolutions for 2021. Faith Shortridge (12), a West High student who makes resolutions every year, recommends to “keep growing every day and try your best” with yearly goals. With the help of psychological tips, you will be able to not only create realistic resolutions, but maintain them as well.

Lauren Ng, Co-Editor-in-Chief

   Want to exercise more? Sleep more? Or perhaps procrastinate less? These are a few New Year’s resolutions that frequently come to mind when brainstorming how to make this year better than the last. But no matter what aspect of life resolutions aim to improve, one common thread connects them all: how difficult it can be to maintain them. Here’s a psychological dive into the science behind the resolution process, as well as what West High students and teachers will be striving for in 2021.

   Before beginning to maintain a resolution, the first step is to create one. While this may seem simple, crafting an unrealistic goal carves a tricky path from the get-go. Taking an approach based on behavioral science can guide people towards attainable resolutions. Psychology Today suggests constructing specific goals that can be tangibly visualized. Resolutions that are too broad do not provide a direct game plan; having a clear objective can give stronger control over behavior. 

   Additionally, making “do” instead of “don’t” resolutions is an effective neurological tactic: “It’s easier for your brain networks to work on an intention stated in the ‘affirmative’ than it is stated in the ‘negative.’”      

   Why are resolutions so tough to keep? According to Psychology Today, a study from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin scientific journal concluded that “we make a fundamental psychological mistake in assuming that we will stick to the plan to attain the goal just because something is clearly important to do.” Sometimes, the sheer importance of a resolution does not provide enough momentum to propel someone forward. What boosts people with motivation is enjoyment: the resulting happiness that is felt.

   Many New Year’s resolutions intend to become habitual, such as reading one book every month. Because of this, turning a resolution into a subconscious part of our lifestyle requires extra thought. Forbes uses advice from Professor Clayton R. Cook, Ph.D., to delineate this process: it is important to “embed cues that signal or prompt a person to exhibit the new desired behavior.” 

   A cue can be as simple as a Post-It note on the cookie jar advising not to eat that extra bite of dessert. This signal is located in a convenient place that establishes an awareness of the new habit. Fortunately, these tips can be applied to all types of resolutions: members of the West High community have set goals in several different aspects of life to kick-off 2021.


Healthy Me, Healthy Environment

   Resolutions hold the power to improve individual lives. But for student Faith Shortridge (12), her 2021 goal covers double duty: “My New Year’s resolution [is] Meatless Mondays, which is where you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single Monday without having any meat.” This not only provides nutritional benefits but can also contribute towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions: a win-win for health on an individual and global scale. Shortridge expressed, “I’m passionate about the environment, and cutting meat out of your diet, at least even a little bit, will help the environment.”

   Interested in lowering your meat consumption? This Bon Appétit recipe for Burst Cherry Tomato Pasta is an easy place to start. Adding in different herbs and vegetables is an effective way to satisfy your nutritional (and taste bud) needs.


One Step Ahead: Career Choices

   Although New Year’s resolutions focus on the 12 months to come, the tradition can even be used to plan ahead. Misa Cohen (10) took advantage of this opportunity: one of her 2021 resolutions is to figure out what she wants her future career to be. Cohen described how she will assess her options: “I plan to achieve my resolution… by researching majors and jobs to see what kind of jobs interests me and suits me the best.”

   The start of a fresh year is quite timely for self-exploration. Even if a career is a little way down the road for students like Cohen, keeping certain fields of interest in mind can be a source of guidance: “I have many careers that I am interested in like Marketing, Criminal Justice, and Business but have never been able to nail down exactly what I want to do,” Cohen added.


Screen Time, Screen Time, Screen Time

   Toggling from computer to phone to other electronic devices and back is perhaps one of the quarantine’s most relatable behaviors. For Ms. Secura, one of West High’s English teachers, the past year’s increase in blue light exposure sparked one of her 2021 resolutions: to “unplug” more. But living in the digital age, especially with the addition of online learning, makes this quite a challenge: “We’re on our computers or even our phones all the time. It’s hard for me because I want to be there for my students,” Ms. Secura explained. The virtual school year has accentuated the need for electronic communication, especially between teachers and students.

   Ms. Secura’s goal to decrease screen time “is small enough and specific enough for [her] to just be reminded and mindful each day that: ‘You did everything that you needed to do today. You can shut down.’”

   For any student aiming to knock off a resolution or simply just get through 2021, Ms. Secura expresses support: “Your teachers are here for you. But we need you to reach out…we will do whatever we can to help you.”  Having a genuine community of support is essential: whether it consists of family, friends, or teachers, receiving encouragement and advice from others will help you walk a successful path this year.