I’ve never much liked the idea of keeping New Year’s resolutions.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never managed to keep one for a whole year? (Let’s be honest – not even a whole month). It could be because making grand sweeping goals feels arbitrary without knowing what life has in store. 2020 confirmed that fear.

However, if you are feeling the carryover from a hard 2021, there are some ways you can resolve to make 2022 better. If you’re a rockstar at New Year’s resolutions and knock them out of the park, keep scrolling. If you’re like me and are a bit averse to the whole concept, this one is for you. Be sure to read my last column about reflecting on 2021, too.

First things first, let’s talk about data. We know from decades of research that positive reinforcement is the most effective way to change behavior. Starting with consistent reinforcement and moving to intermittent, we can create habits and routines that suit us well. We also know that punishment is highly ineffective for any meaningful change. But guess what? We usually punish ourselves when things aren’t going how we planned. Sometimes we do this purely with punishing thoughts. Other times we restrict pleasurable things. 


Take Stock of the Good

As we think about resolving to have a better 2022 than 2021, let’s use what we know to increase the likelihood we achieve that. I want you to start by reflecting on what was good about 2021. Maybe you got married or bought a house. Maybe you visited your dream destination  (and even managed not to catch the virus)! You may have spent a lot of quality time on the course. Regardless of what the things were, we want to focus on all that went well. 


Make Plans for More of the Good

Now that you’ve hopefully got a mental tally going, think of what you’d like to do more of. Maybe you want to travel more or play more golf. Maybe you’d like to eat more fruit or drink more green tea. If you find yourself getting stuck on things you don’t want to do, I want you to try to shift those to what you can do instead. Let’s focus on what we want to DO rather than what we want to NOT do. For example, if I want to eat less junk food, I would change that around to eating more nutrient-dense food each day. If I want to stop throwing my clubs across the fairway after bad shots, I would change that around to taking a deep breath and putting my club away mindfully after each shot. 

Write down those things that you want to do more of this year. Maybe you put it on a post-it on the mirror. Maybe you set it to your home screen on your phone. Now I want you to take a couple of minutes and imagine what it will feel like when you succeed in those things. And what might you do to celebrate yourself when you do? Maybe if I can take a deep breath and mindfully put my clubs away after each shot for 3 whole months, I’ll let myself splurge on that weird custom golf headcover that looks just like my late dog. Positive psychology meets basic intro psychology. We don’t need to be rigid. We don’t need to punish ourselves. We need to identify what we’d like to do more of, imagine what it will feel like when we achieve that, and find ways to reward or reinforce the behaviors when we do them!

Happy New Year to you all!


Want more of the Mental Game? Click here to read past columns from Dr. Chelsi Day!

Dr. Chelsi Day

Dr. Day is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is an Ohio native who completed her Bachelor's degrees in Psychology and Health and Sport Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio while competing on the Varsity Swimming and Diving team as a diver. She then went on to earn a Master's degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology followed by a Master's degree and later a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University New England in Keene, NH.