Just one week into 2015, and many of us have already abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. In today’s blog we would like to focus on the psychological reasons why more than 80% of us hardly make it into February without breaking our New Year’s Resolutions and how can we truly make that change?
The Psychology Behind New Year’s Resolutions
Your brain’s prefrontal cortex, the brain area located right behind your forehead, is responsible for goal setting, planning, rational thought, and the understanding of abstract principles. It is here, where New Year’s resolutions are born.
Your brain also consists of millions of neural pathways that connect various brain areas. These pathways are like “desire paths” in the grass that grow larger and larger after months and years of heavy traffic. In essence, your New Year’s resolutions are pathways that you wish to create. However, because your old habits have already created deep “desire paths”, new pathways cannot be established as easily and willpower alone won’t get you there. If you want to succeed, you need to create new habits; slowly over time.
7 Tips to Turn Things Around
1) Be Specific
Vague New Year’s resolutions such as “eat more healthy” are impossible to implement, because they allow broad definitions (e.g. “Chocolate comes from cocoa, which is a tree. That makes it a plant. Chocolate is salad”). Try to be more specific in your goal definition, such as vowing to have leafy vegetables with a meal once per day. This new habit will be easier to establish and it will get you a step closer to your goal.
Vague Resolution: Quit Smoking.
New Habit: Skip the morning cigarette.
Vague Resolution: Lose weight.
New Habit: Drink skim milk instead of regular milk.
Vague Resolution: Learn how to cook.
New Habit: Cook meals with fresh ingredients every Sunday evening.
2) Shorten the Time Span
Most of us are not long-term thinkers; we’re in for the short-term reward. One year of cookie abstinence might seem so unreachable and painful that we might abandon our resolution altogether at the first sign of cravings. Setting short-term goals of two weeks at a time might help, because two weeks seems a lot more manageable.
3) Keep it Positive
One of the major issues with New Year’s resolutions is that we tend to state them in the negative. Vowing to “give up” something (e.g. cigarettes, alcohol), will cause a big internal struggle every time the cravings hit. Try to stress the benefit that you will gain from successfully sticking to your resolution. For example, instead of vowing to “quit smoking”, you could rephrase it to read “I would love to give up smoking because it will make me healthier and richer.”
4) Do it YOUR Way
Who says that you have to hit the gym to get more active. If you absolutely hate the gym, there is no point signing up for a membership thinking that the money you’ve spent on the membership will get you motivated to be more active in 2015. It won’t. Instead, you could go for a fast 30 minute walk in the morning before work.
5) Be committed for 4 Weeks
The key is to invest a little bit of time each day into changing your behaviour and create the new, desired habit. If you want to be more active in the New Year, do it every day for four weeks straight. No excuses. Even if you “don’t feel like it today” and even if you feel tired, have a head-ache, or are just “not in the mood”, keep it up for 4 weeks straight with no exceptions. You’ll see that after 4 weeks, you’ll enjoy the new habit, be proud of your progress, and it will increase your motivation to keep it up. According to a new study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, after an average of 66 days (about 9 weeks) the new habit will feel natural.
6) Don’t Reward or Punish Yourself
Yes, you’ve heard right. Most self-help advice preaches otherwise, but when you reward yourself for a certain behaviour, you unconsciously perceive whatever resolution you’re trying to implement, as “a pain” that needs to be rewarded to be worth it. The outcome of the action itself (e.g. the slimmer waistline, your capability to now run 45 minutes instead of 30, your financial gains from not buying cigarettes etc.) should be a reward in itself.
Be aware that even the best of us slip sometimes. It’s natural, unless you’re a superhuman. Don’t abandon your resolutions altogether just because you had one minor misstep. Instead reaffirm your resolutions, think about your short-term and long-term goals, and continue the path.
7) Don’t Overcommit
Many times, I’ve heard people vowing to quit smoking, lose weight, eat healthy, and be more active — all at once. How often did they manage to keep these resolutions? Never. It’s impossible to change too many habits all at once. It can be challenging to change just one of them, so changing all of them together is frankly impossible.
Your Post a Note Team