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Making changes for a happy new year can take time – no need to do it all today

01 Jan 2024 4 minute read
The new year’s resolutions by Marwa Morgan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sarah Morgan Jones

The turning of the year, out with the old and in with the new, will mean different things to all of us.

Some people love it, some hate it, some couldn’t care less. But for many it’ll be the time to turn a decisive back on the habits or events that have followed us to this point, and to face the future with a refreshed determination, in the form of the trusty new year’s resolution.

I’m willing to bet you a Quality Street of your choice (well actually there are only the toffee pennies and the non-descript blue ones left) that if you made a list of resolutions, you will have broken at least one already.

It’s inevitable, unavoidable, it’s as traditional as getting halfway between Christmas and New Year and having no idea what day it is. We make them to break them.

This year/this relationship/this body/this job/this house is not working for us and seeking to fix whatever ‘this’ is with an iron will seems like a distinct possibility.

Right now. In the darkest and shortest of days.

When we are skint, tired, hungover, buzzing on sugar, on the anti-climactic come down of the pre-Christmas hype, in the toxic rain of the family fall-out, amid the knee-deep muddy trough of ‘meh’.

The perfect time to profoundly change our lives.

Of course, the commercial world is ripe and ready for these moments, this obscure faith in ourselves that all the things we have been stacking up and putting off until the new year, can be tackled in the longest, darkest month of the year.

Booze, fags, sugar, meat are out, walking, running, swimming and early nights are in. Out with the fun and in with the gruel.

‘Go the whole hog, Mog’

Slimming clubs, gym memberships, knitting magazines offering one square a week till the end of time, download that language app, sign up to that class, join a book club, return those pyjamas, exchange them for some running shoes and sign up for a Race for Life and Veganuary and Dry January.

All await our idle hands and new sense of commitment, and if we sign up, ‘go the whole hog, Mog’, put our quids where the chips used to go… then we have to do it…right?

In November 2023, Forbes Advisor interviewed 2000 UK residents about their resolution intentions.

While 57% never have and don’t intend to set goals, the survey revealed that almost a third of the respondents will be setting some in 2024, which is an increase on last year, when fewer than one in five did so.

Younger people are most likely to set New Year’s resolutions, with more than half of those aged 18-34 (51%) planning to set one in 2024 and over a third (37%) of that age group feeling pressure to do so.

Meanwhile, over a third of 35–54-year-olds will be setting new year goals, with 17% feeling pressure to do so. Among those aged 55 and over, just 12% will be doing so and only 4% of those reported feeling the pressure.


Enhancing physical well-being is the most popular aim with more than three in five people making resolutions (62%) opting to make physical or dietary changes.

The same poll suggests that sticking to goals varies between less than 10% maintaining them for up to 9 months, 21% lasting up to a month, while the majority (34%) last between one and three months.

However, more than three in five (62%) report that they have stuck to at least one resolution for a year and 51% have successfully maintained at least one New Year’s goal over the long term, lasting from the time they have set it to the present.

So, there is some evidence that making these promises to ourselves can work and can be beneficial.


Setting goals, making them measurable and achievable, giving them a time frame and keeping all of that realistic could get us to where we want to be.

Taking some form of responsibility for our lifestyles and behaviours, actions that can benefit those around us as well as ourselves, our environment and our society is always going to be a good thing.

Even if we don't entirely succeed, the focus and the intent can make us feel good.

Approaching it in an ‘all or nothing’ way, however, is less likely to be successful, as the moment we fall off whatever wagon we’ve chosen to get on may lead us to give up entirely.

Added to this, the concept of giving anything up sets us up to feel deprived from the off, and more likely to succumb when, not if, making profound changes becomes hard.

Choose more not less

Life has been difficult for so many in these last few years. We may have lost family, friends, relationships, social lives, work, opportunities.

So, it makes sense when approaching the resolutions not to take the deprivation-punishing route – giving up this and that, insisting on resistance and strict abstinence.

Instead, we could think of what more we can have – more moderation, more sleep, more healthy food, more exercise, more fresh air, more time, more books, more nurturing, more opportunities for pleasure and social contact.

Take it easy

We don’t need to start at the stroke of midnight, in the dark and dingey days ahead. Nor do we need to go it alone or reinvent the wheel.

Seeking out resources with friends, teaming up with groups, sharing our plans with family so they support rather than police our progress will offset rebellion and resentment.

Better, perhaps, to take time to find what we need from the coming year, to prioritise, plan and prepare and above all remember that these changes should make us feel better, not become another source of stress.

Let's take it easy on ourselves.

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