Being Realistic Key to Keeping New Year's Resolutions, Prof Says

January 05, 2011 - News Release

With the new year just begun, a University of Guelph psychology professor has some advice for making and keeping resolutions: set realistic goals.

Ian Newby-Clark, who conducts research on self-improvement, said people often fail to imagine real obstacles.

"When people are constructing a plan for self-change, they make it a rosy picture with few obstructions,” he said. “But their over-the-top goals are often unrealistic.”

Resolutions often fail because most are made in haste, or are either half-hearted or too ambitious, he said.

“For some, the new year arrives quickly, and it’s not entirely welcome because it reminds people that another year has passed without self-change happening. Instead of taking an hour or so to reflect, though, some people pause maybe half a second before announcing, ‘I'm going to run the Boston Marathon’ or something like that. They are setting themselves up for a fall.”

Make resolutions after careful deliberation, in moderation and with full resolve, Newby-Clark said.

“The new year looks like a blank slate with no mistakes on it, but people need to realize that they are the same person they were last year. They must think about what is realistic for them, plan accordingly and take it slowly.”

People often pledge to break bad habits such as smoking or chewing their fingernails. But habits, especially the bad ones, can be tough to eradicate, he said.

“A habit is a behaviour that you do on a regular basis in a less-than-deliberate manner. You’re almost on automatic pilot. We do them almost without thinking. You have to engage in an effortful process to stop doing it.”

Newby-Clark started a “bad-habits” blog three years ago that now attracts about 70,000 readers and more than 1,000 subscribers ( “It’s a unique scientifically based perspective. I can write it in an accessible way and share information with people in a way they can understand.”

He also blogs for Psychology Today.

Newby-Clark applauds people who make resolutions. “It takes a certain amount of courage to decide to try and change oneself for the better.”

But it’s also perfectly acceptable not to make pledges on New Year’s Eve. “I didn’t make any. Make a resolution when you want to, not when you're supposed to.”

Prof. Ian Newby-Clark
Department of Psychology
519-824-4120, Ext. 53517/53307

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or

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