Navigating the New Year: Coping With the Social and Personal Pressures of Positive Beginnings and Resolutions

As we embark on a new year, the promise of positive beginnings and resolutions can bring both excitement and stress. Navigating the societal and personal pressures when embracing change can be challenging.

While the optimism of a fresh start on January 1st is motivational, the weight of expectations can lead to anxiety and immobilisation. Recognising that progress is a journey, not an instant transformation allows for a more realistic and sustainable approach to reaching important goals.

Amid the societal narrative of new beginnings, and pressure to change, it’s crucial to prioritise well-being and cultivate a mindset that embraces growth with patience and understanding.

Understanding the Root of The Stress

The pressure of New Year’s resolutions often stems from the expectation to address all flaws within a year, which will almost certainly lead to unrealistic goals and an inevitable sense of failure. Setting goals year after year and struggling to maintain new habits past January can be disheartening.

Social media has further amplified the fear of judgement and comparison, causing mounting stress as individuals feel compelled to prove themselves and meet external expectations, rather than focus on their own values and realistic goals.

In an October 2023 survey, 61.7% of participants expressed feeling compelled to establish a New Year’s resolution.[1] Furthermore, 66.5% of respondents intend to set three or more goals for the upcoming year. However, according to research by Strava, over 90% of New Year’s resolutions will be abandoned, with 80% abandoned by 19 January.[2]

Why Are Most New Year’s Resolutions Abandoned?

New Year’s resolutions frequently meet setbacks because of ambitious objectives, a failure to delve into the deeper ‘why’ behind them, and inadequate readiness for change. Successful resolutions require a thoughtful examination of personal motivations and a realistic readiness for the transformation process.

Additional reasons why many resolutions are abandoned include:

Not The Right Timing

January 1st, despite signifying a fresh start, is not necessarily the ideal time for many to embark on new goals. While the festive period can be joyful and relaxing, it can also be filled with pressure, emotional exhaustion and grief for many.

Returning to work, school, or other commitments after a brief pause might seem like an ideal time to create change, but the reality is that the holiday can be tiring, disruptive and even triggering. Busy homes, time with extended family, visitations and travel can leave little opportunity for the time and space needed to reflect and plan for change.

Conversely, for those who find themselves alone during this time, the space and silence – contrasted with images of families in warm, harmonious homes – can give way to feelings of grief, loneliness and pain.

While it is often said there is no ‘perfect’ time to act, the mental, emotional and physical energy we have can greatly affect the application of new habits.

Emotional Commitment to The Goal

A significant factor is the lack of emotional commitment to the goal initially. Many people feel compelled by peer pressure to set a goal instead of being driven by intrinsic motivation and a genuine desire for change.

The pressure to conform and set goals driven by external validation rather than intrinsic motivation can lead to a disconnection from genuine desires for change. The pervasive social trend of toxic positivity – promoting an overly optimistic outlook – can further contribute to stress by dismissing authentic struggles, ignoring social context and promoting an individualistic approach. No change process is perfect, and it’s rarely completed alone.

Too Much, Too Fast

A significant challenge with New Year’s resolutions lies in their tendency to focus on substantial changes such as altering dietary habits, improving sleep patterns, or mastering a new language.

Shifting a routine, even if it involves a seemingly small change like incorporating a daily mindfulness exercise, is a gradual process that demands patience. It is essential to accept that change takes time. Attempting to modify several aspects of one’s routine simultaneously can make the overall adjustment more complex and potentially hinder progress.

Psychology of the Process of Change

The therapeutic understanding of the change process often likens it to a wheel comprising six stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination.[3] These stages explain the journey we undergo when making behavioural changes. Although the change process is explained as a wheel, the process isn’t strictly cyclical.

People frequently oscillate between stages, particularly preparation and maintenance. Each stage requires distinct support strategies, empowering progression to the next stage and eventually reaching maintenance, where the behaviour change solidifies into a long-term habit.

In the precontemplation stage, individuals may not yet acknowledge the need for change. Moving to the contemplation stage, they begin considering change but may still experience ambivalence or hesitation. It is often at this stage that people commit something to a new year’s resolution. The desire is present, but awareness of why change is needed and how to enact it may be missing.

At the preparation stage, individuals experience a readiness for action and take incremental steps toward behaviour change. These steps may not last, and the approach to change may need many phases of adaptation, but the commitment and motive are clear.

Navigating Change for Trauma Survivors

Change poses unique challenges for trauma survivors. Letting go of long-held habits and routines can often resemble the relinquishing of a safety net. Deep-seated habits forged as shields against fear and discomfort complicate this process.

The connection between habits a person wants to change and life struggles can be clear and direct, or subtle and difficult to recognise. For example, smoking may have become a way to excuse oneself from busy, overwhelming social situations that may be triggering.

In a therapeutic environment, this is understood as a compensatory strategy aimed at self-regulation.[4] Recognising the connection between the habit and the core need is essential to create new habits or coping mechanisms that offer the same protection and defence.

Untangling these defences from trauma intensifies the struggle, and careful, structured changes with robust support systems are essential. Respecting a trauma survivor’s pace, allowing ample preparation, and discussing the nuances are crucial.

Incremental changes that acknowledge overwhelming emotions, avoid judgement of any kind, and recognise the adaptive role of the habit fosters a gradual, mindful transition toward lasting change.

Some Tips on Embracing Change

Embracing change may be challenging, so here are some tips to help along the way:

  • Know our Reasons Why – Take time to delve into the reasons behind your resolutions. Knowing why you want to make a particular change adds depth and personal significance to your goals. Whether it’s improving health, seeking personal growth, or enhancing overall well-being, understanding your motivation strengthens your commitment and provides a meaningful foundation for lasting change. Regularly revisit and reaffirm your reasons to stay connected to the purpose behind your resolutions throughout the journey.
  • Build on Habits You Already Have – Integrate your resolutions into existing habits. If you’re already hitting the gym, tack on a few exercises to support your new goal. Likewise, for something like drinking more water, tie it to a habit you’ve already nailed, like sipping a glass after brushing your teeth.
  • Redefine Failure as Learning – Shift your perspective on failure. Instead of viewing setbacks as insurmountable roadblocks, see them as opportunities to learn and grow. Understand that occasional slips are a natural part of the process. By reframing failure as a stepping stone to improvement, you can bounce back with resilience, adjust your approach, and continue progressing toward your goals. This mindset shift fosters a healthier relationship with setbacks, promoting persistence and a more positive journey towards achieving your resolutions.
  • Look at Your Language – Words like should and could indicate that the motivations for doing something are external, or based on a fear of judgement from others. Judgements and fears related to the things we want to change about ourselves can be complex, and are often rooted in the messages we absorbed as children.

Recognising where feelings of guilt, judgement and fear play into your desires for change is essential, so that when these feelings become overwhelming they can be recognised for what they are – conditions of worth given to us by others, and not failures of our own design.

From all of us at Khiron Clinics, we wish you a wonderful New Year. Let us celebrate the beginning of a new journey with compassion for ourselves and others, and make safety, authenticity and belonging a priority.




[3] Prochaska JO, Velicer WF. The transtheoretical model of health behaviour change. Am J Health Promot. 1997 Sep-Oct;12(1):38-48. doi: 10.4278/0890-1171-12.1.38. PMID: 10170434.

[4] Addictions and trauma recovery – Janina Fisher. November 13, 2000