Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

by Posted on: January 2, 2013Categories: LiveWell 24/7   

Wanting to change yourself and better yourself is a beautiful and inspiring thing is a great endeavor.  What’s not so great is that according to the researcher Richard Wiseman 88% of all those set resolutions from half of America and probably lots of other people in the world fail. That’s 156 million failed resolutions and disappointed minds each and every year.

Your brain can’t handle new year’s resolutions – here is why

What we need to stick to our new year’s resolutions is willpower. Your brain cells that operate willpower are located in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area right behind your forehead. That particular area of the brain is also responsible for staying focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract tasks for example. Now, when you set a new year’s resolution, an enormous amount of willpower is required. It’s an amount that your brain simply can’t handle. To put more scientifically, this is what’s happening inside your prefrontal cortex, best described through a Stanford experiment by Prof. Baba Shiv:

A group of undergraduate students were divided into 2 groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember. The other was given a seven-digit number to remember. Then, after a short walk through the hall, they were offered the choice between two snacks: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit. What’s most surprising: The students with 7-digit numbers to remember were twice as likely to pick the slice of chocolate compared to the students with the 2-digits.

The reasoning of why this happens? According to Prof. Shiv, it’s very obvious:

“Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert.”

So your pre-frontal cortex that handles willpower is like a muscle, that needs to be trained, as Tony Schwartz always mentions . If you decide to train that muscle at the start of the new year with a resolution to quit smoking, start going to the gym, or lose lots of weight, that’s the equivalent of a 300 pound barbell you want to lift without any previous training.

It’s no surprise that your brain can’t do the heavy lifting.

Resolutions vs. Habits – why vague aspirations don’t work with us humans

The problem is clear, any abstract goal you have, that is not tied to a specific behavior is near impossible for your brain to focus on. Making it “instinctual”, which is the crucial aspect, that will help you achieve any new habit, is missing in 90% of all new year’s resolutions, which makes them so likely to fail.

Instead, the key is to make any goal a habit first. And most importantly, make it a tiny one. Here is a list of examples of how this translates to some of the 4 most common new year’s resolutions:

  • Resolution: Quit smoking vs. Habit: Only stop smoking that 1 cigarette you have every morning after breakfast
  • Resolution: Eat healthy food vs. Habit: Start substituting that 1 daily morning pastry for a banana
  • Resolution: Lose Weight vs. Habit: Every evening after work, go for a 2-3 minute run or walk around the block.
  • Resolution: Manage stress vs. Habit: Meditate for 2-3 minutes every morning after you wake up.

By immediately breaking down each resolution and seeing what the smallest habit could be, your chances of succeeding will be 50% higher than if you leave it vague. There is nothing more, you make it so stupidly easy and simple for yourself to create that habit, that there is almost no way you can fail with it.

Ok, but now enough of why the dark and gloomy reasons of new year’s resolutions don’t work. What can we really do to make them work?

More information: buffer.com


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