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The New Year's Resolution Roller Coaster: Why We Ride It Every Year

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

As December comes to a close and January dawns upon us, there's a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. It's the time for fresh starts, new beginnings, and, of course, New Year's resolutions. Every year, millions of people around the world make promises to themselves about the changes they'll make in their lives. Whether it's getting fit, saving money, or learning a new skill, resolutions are a tradition that unites us all. But why do we embark on this roller coaster ride of setting resolutions year after year, only to find ourselves back at square one by February?

Let's explore the psychology behind the New Year's resolution phenomenon.

The Cycle of Hope and Disappointment

The New Year's resolution journey often resembles a roller coaster, complete with exhilarating highs and stomach-churning drops. It begins with the hope and enthusiasm of a fresh start—a clean slate, a new chapter. We set our goals with unwavering determination, believing that this time, things will be different.

However, as the days turn into weeks, and the weeks into months, the initial burst of motivation tends to wane. The gym starts to feel like a distant memory, the savings account isn't growing as planned, and that new language you were so excited to learn now seems like an insurmountable challenge. The ride takes a nosedive, and disappointment sets in.

Understanding the Psychology

Several psychological factors contribute to this New Year's resolution roller coaster:

The Fresh Start Effect: The start of a new year offers a psychological fresh start—a chance to distance ourselves from past failures and imperfections. This clean slate can be a powerful motivator, inspiring us to make

positive changes.

Social Pressure: The tradition of making New Year's resolutions is deeply ingrained in our culture. The shared experience and social pressure of discussing resolutions with friends and family can provide an extra push to commit to our goals.

Over-Optimism Bias: When setting resolutions, we tend to be overly optimistic about our ability to achieve them. This bias leads us to set ambitious goals that may be unrealistic given our current habits and lifestyles.

Lack of Planning: Often, resolutions lack concrete plans. We declare our intentions but fail to outline the specific steps needed to achieve our goals. Without a clear road map, it's easy to get lost along the way.

Instant Gratification vs. Delayed Rewards: Many resolutions involve sacrificing immediate pleasure for long-term gain. It can be challenging to stay committed when the rewards are distant and the temptations of instant gratification are ever-present.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking free from the New Year's resolution roller coaster requires a shift in mindset and approach:

Set Realistic Goals: Instead of aiming for dramatic, all-or-nothing changes, set achievable, incremental goals. Start small and build momentum over time.

Create a Plan: Develop a clear and actionable plan to reach your goals. Break them down into manageable steps, and track your progress regularly.

Seek Accountability: Share your resolutions with a friend or join a support group. Accountability can help you stay on track when motivation wanes.

Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself when setbacks occur. Remember that setbacks are a natural part of any journey, and they don't define your overall progress.

Embrace Progress, Not Perfection: Celebrate your small victories along the way. Recognise that meaningful change takes time, and every step forward is a win.


The New Year's resolution roller coaster is a ride many of us embark upon each year. While it can be filled with highs and lows, understanding the psychology behind this tradition can help us approach it more effectively. By setting realistic goals, creating actionable plans, seeking support, and practising self-compassion, we can increase our chances of making lasting changes. So, as the next New Year approaches, remember that the ride can be enjoyable and worthwhile if we approach it with the right mindset. Here's to a new year filled with growth, progress, and achieving the resolutions that truly matter to us.

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