New year, new resolutions. Does it make sense?

Too many resolutions are an easy way not to keep any of them. It is better to take small steps towards change.

January is often a month of change, a surge of new energy and a desire to act. It is also the time of New Year's resolutions. We talk to a psychologist dr. Agata Rudnik from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Gdańsk about whether it is worth having them, how to avoid frustration when encountering difficulties in their implementation and how to let go in order not to fall into a trap of our own expectations.

- Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska: Out of curiosity I looked through the most common New Year's resolutions. They include healthy food, diet, exercise, new hobbies, learning a foreign language, giving up smoking and stimulants, improving family relations... Should we start the New Year with a belief that it's time for changes?

Agata Rudnik: We can find a lot of information on New Year's resolutions and a whole mountain of inspiration... However, research carried out in the UK shows that almost 90% of our New Year's plans are not carried out and remain only in our heads or on paper.

- Well, plans are plans and life is life... Why is this happening?

It is not easy to change something. It has been said that habits are the most difficult to change. Daily rituals, like a cigarette with coffee or chocolates after every dinner, give us a sense of stability and security. Our brains like it a lot. But it turns out that less than two weeks is enough to change old habits and introduce new ones.

- Apparently, it's good to set goals wisely. Not five, but one. And if it's hard to decide, it's worth making a list of New Year's resolutions with the assumption that achieving at least one of them will be a success. What do you think?

The Mayo Clinic, an American medical non-profit organisation, talks about so-called "SMART goals". Thus, it indicates that if we want to achieve a plan, it should be defined as - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Trackable.

This is where the agenda really matters. Think about what you really want and break down your goal into small steps.

Avoid too many resolutions, as it is a simple way to not keep any of them. And don't forget about motivation, because it is the key to success. For example, it is much harder to learn a new language just for yourself than to learn new words just to talk to an interesting foreigner (laughs).

Many people find it helpful to share their goals with others, for example on social media. This, unfortunately, can be a trap - the pressure is not always conducive to achieving what you want.

- What about room for error - shouldn't failure be discouraging?

Unrealistic goals cause us to fall into a spiral of negative thoughts and emotions. When we focus on what is hard to achieve, we get frustrated and quickly discouraged. That's why it's extremely important what you're talking about - to allow ourselves to fail. If you've managed to stick to your resolution for, say, five days and then something goes wrong on the sixth, don't get discouraged and think: ok, it didn't work out today, but I did it the last few days. Let's get on with it because it's a shame to waste it.

- You mentioned that sometimes it is necessary to approach New Year's resolutions in an alternative way. How do you mean?

We can treat the New Year not only as an opportunity to improve our lives. It's worth thinking about what we can do for ourselves, but also others. There is always a small element of selfishness in helping because it makes us feel better, but... I wish we were all selfish like that (laughs).

- Thank you for the interview, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year!

Thank you. Happy New Year! To sum up, I would like to use a quote by Tove Jansson, who wrote in her book 'The Moomintpappa at Sea': 'Tomorrow will be a new, long day. Your own, from beginning to end. It is, after all, a very pleasant thought.'.

It is indeed a pleasant thought, and it is worth remembering.

Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska/Press Office of University of Gdańsk