By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology
For many people, ringing in 2023 is a new beginning starting with a New Year’s resolution. A behavioral scientist at Washington University in St. Louis advised to give the idea of any New Year’s resolution more thought.
“My take on it is that maybe January is not the best time,” said Tim Bono, PhD, Lecturer in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
Bono conducts research on positive psychology which looks at predictors of health and well-being in day-to-day lives. Reviewing the research and considering New Year’s resolutions, Bono shared a new perspective about setting new goals on January 1st.
“I think it’s a fine idea. It’s a great thing to identify some new goals that we have for ourselves at the start of a new year. And if, in your past, you have found that setting New Year’s resolutions is something that works for you and you’re able to follow through with them, power to you. Go for it.”
But if not, maybe ringing in the New Year with a New Year’s resolution is not the best thing to do.
“That requires a certain level of mental energy and cognitive effort and motivation. And those things can be really hard to come by at the start of a new year,” said Bono. “There are some studies that have found that the majority of people who set New Year’s resolutions are not able to follow through with them. And if you should find yourself in that category, instead of drawing the conclusion that you’re no good at setting New Year’s resolutions or you’re not capable of following through on them, I think it’s worthwhile to bring awareness to the fact that there’s a lot of things that undermine motivation in the early months of a new year.”
As wonderful as the holiday season can be for so many people, it can also be exhausting.
“People just feel a sense of fatigue at the beginning of a new year. There’s this build up to the holidays and there’s a lot of anticipation, a lot of expectations about how it’s supposed to happen during the holiday season. For some people, plans don’t always turn out as they were hoping or expecting,” explained Bono. “And so there’s a sense of disappointment that they’re carrying through into the new year. But even if things have gone perfectly, there’s still a sense of tiredness that people have.”
Other things happen too that hit families very hard this time of year.
“There are relationships that have ended or there are people who are no longer with us. That can create a sense of grief and loneliness they might be carrying that with them,” he said. “Those psychological states are not quite conducive to setting new goals and having the wherewithal to follow through with them.”
And there’s the weather and wintertime blues!
Some might even go so far as to say…
“Winter sucks. You can use that! That’s a large part of the reason why it’s difficult to carry out these goals,” Bono said. “(Less) exposure to natural sunlight itself is a huge contributor to our overall psychological health and well-being. When natural sunlight enters the visual system, it activates a neural circuit that regulates mood and motivation and mental acuity. Most of us experience some form of the winter blues during January through about March, and for some people that becomes a full-blown clinical disorder, seasonal effective disorder.”
Bono said people stay in their homes more and they don’t socialize as much.
“All of that can really take a toll on our mood, which can then translate into less willingness, less motivation to carry out other behaviors like setting new goals.”
That’s why Bono said it’s okay to plan the goals for later in the year.Maybe the best time is springtime.
“You might call that spring renewal,” he said. “We do spring cleaning in our homes. We plant seeds in our gardens. And it could also be a time for us to think about the new things, the new initiatives that we also want to be incorporating into our lives.”