A Better Way to Approach the New Year

January is about beginnings! It’s the start to a new year, and many of us have already established goals and resolutions to accomplish over the next 12 months. Most of us are eager to put 2020 behind us and hoping for the best in 2021.  However, we are also apprehensive about what it will look like with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full-force.

Goals and resolutions are important, but commitment to them can be difficult.   Various studies have been conducted on the success rates of these resolutions, and the majority of the studies reveal that 50% of people give up within one to three months; the 12-month success rates range from 8-20% (1). There are many factors that contribute to these statistics. Most individuals who give up could have a stronger connection to mental and emotional buffers that might keep them on track.

From the standpoint of brain structure, our prefrontal cortex (near our forehead) is responsible for our willpower, which can be compared to the more unconscious emotional power of the amygdala (near the back-center of our head) (2). When we have too many goals or life adjustments planned, we experience “cognitive [over]load,” which is taxing on our willpower (2). In this state, our resolutions create chronic stress that weakens our willpower and emotions.

If you want to stick to your 2021 goals, the key to success is improving your emotional health. Practicing self-care that includes rest for your body, mind, and soul is very important for emotional health. Lack of rest leads to negative thinking, poor decision-making, digestive problems, increased cravings for “junk food,” increased weight-gain, increased in the “hunger hormone,” and so forth (3). 

Another important aspect of emotional health is increasing your joy. Joy is experienced within relationships where someone is genuinely glad to be with you (4). It can also be increased by the daily practice of gratitude (4). When you are experiencing joy, you will crave food less, you will make better choices, and you will have more motivation to live out your goals. Joy helps our brains grow better than any healthy food and improves our immune system better than exercise (4).

As you think about what you would like to accomplish this year, remember that attending to your mental and emotional health will promote the needed “superpower” to remain faithful to what you would like to achieve.


  1. Studies retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2980864/ and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2728957/

2. Kennedy, J. J. Ph.D. (January, 1, 2021). The Neuroscience of Your New Year’s Resolution: How can You Be Happier, Thinner OR REALLY Successful in 2021?  Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-reboot/202101/the-neuroscience-your-new-year-s-resolution

3. Leaf, C. (April 16, 2018). Podcast: Episode #28: What Happens in Our Brain and Body When We Don’t Sleep. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiczGCYI7JA

4. Wilder, J. (2014). Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone. Shepherd’s House Inc.: East Peoria, IL.



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