5,4,3,2,1 … Happy new year! It is a new year in our calendars and a new beginning for all. We turn a page in our lives, but the next one is blank. What should we fill it up with? We tend to immediately and helplessly fall in in love with tomorrow in hopes of forgetting the heartbreaks and disappointments of yesterday. Thus, we create goals and aspirations that can help us imagine better versions of ourselves. However, you and I know that complying with the requirements is no easy task. We are better off when our realities make amends with our fantasies.

Do not get me wrong. I am not saying you should not fight for those goals; rather, be smart about the approach.

The white bear problem

The ironic process theory, also known as the white bear problem, is your biggest enemy. The white bear study (Wegner et al., 1987) involved participants who were told to not think about white bears and engage in a 5-minute talk among themselves. Those who were subjected to the demand that asked of them to adopt suppression were more likely to report the emergence of thoughts about white bears during that time. Thus, this theory speaks of a psychological process through which our deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts fail and, rather, push them to appear even more.

The New Year's resolution list that sets us up for a relapse

When we come up with our list of New Year’s resolutions we are actually trying to produce ways in which we can suppress our discredited behaviors and ways of the past. The more we try to delete those flawed ways from our lifestyles the more we interact with our psyche and enable it to push those related thoughts back into our consciousness.

Failed resolutions are undesirable. Instead of setting yourselves up for failure, set yourselves up for smaller-scale successes. Do not chase resolutions, look for milestones. Setting several milestone and spreading them throughout the year will help ease the process of self-improvement and will make us more conscious of our progress and our need to continue working hard after each achieved milestone.

We are continuously drawn into a world where competition is everything, where improving on the version of our self is not enough unless it is compared to someone else’s version. At the end of the day, we are never satisfied with the magnitude of our goals or the progress that we have made.

Redefining the successful achievement of New Year's resolutions

An example that reflects the failure of our New Year’s resolutions is the statistic that states that only 8% of Americans achieve their resolutions. Whether these resolutions are nonspecific, unattainable, or actually unwanted, we tend to dismiss them fairly quickly. 75% of them are maintained by the first week, and that number drops to 46% after six months.

It is better to pursue moderation than suppression. Our habits, even our worst ones, define who we are. Correcting them would mean correcting ourselves, and that is a difficult reality to face. On the other hand, if we can make peace with ourselves and accept the fact that improvement can only come gradually, real success can take place. You are on time to modify your New Year’s resolutions before you the day comes when you ultimately give up on them. We need to feel less sorry about who we were and better manage our hopefulness about who we can be. In doing so, we can make it truly a happier 2017!