The Science Behind New Year’s Resolutions:
I chose to write about the science behind New Year’s Resolutions and why most people struggle to maintain them throughout the year. In the spirit of the New Year, many people have embraced the beginning of 2018 by making New Year’s Resolutions that they aspire to maintain, such as exercising more or eating healthier. However, according to a Journal of Clinical Psychology study, while 45-50% of Americans make resolutions, 54% of those people give up on their resolutions after six months and by the end of the year, only 8% of people have actually maintained them. There is usually a three week window after New Year’s filled with desperate attempts to maintain resolutions, which usually ends in failure to resist temptation. Most people give up on their resolutions and use the justification of “there’s always next year,” blaming their failures on their willpower and/or lack thereof. While maintaining a resolution seems like an impossible task as the year goes on, studies have shown ways that people can follow through with their resolutions and not give up so easily.
According to Dr. Tasha Eurich, PhD, a psychologist and a contributor to the Huffington Post, there are two types of New Year’s resolutions that will always fail to succeed: the “pie in the sky” resolutions, and the “all over the place” resolutions:
“Pie in the Sky”: These resolutions are based on a “futile” hope that a person will achieve something just because they want to. An example of this is when someone decides they want to lose 40 pounds but makes no schedule or regimen to accomplish their goal and ends up becoming disappointed. Just because someone has hope, that doesn’t mean they have a plan.
“All over the place”: When people make a laundry list of resolutions that they hope to achieve all at once. Dr. Eurich states that “unfortunately, when we take on too much at once, our brain chemistry works against us. Successful resolutions require self-control — say, the self-control to wake up early and run five miles — and self-control is an exhaustible resource.” Too many resolutions usually result in people not sticking to any of them.
Along with these unrealistic types of resolutions, willpower has proven to take a negative psychological and physical toll on people who make resolutions, according to psychologist Greg Miller from Northwestern University. Miller discusses the results of his most recent work on willpower and grit: “Self-control isn’t about feeling miserable. Willing oneself to be
‘gritty’ can be quite stressful.” Studying about 300 teenagers from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, Professor Miller found that those who were better at using self-control did have more success when it came to resisting temptations, but at a cost to their health. When people decide to will themselves to follow through with their resolutions, it negatively affects their health and more often than not results in a failure to meet their goals. To achieve your resolutions and prevent the negative effects of willpower on your health, here are some tips for maintaining your resolutions:
Make a realistic resolution. If you want to solve that 1000 piece puzzle that’s been sitting in your closet for two years, carve out time to solve it. Know that you’re willing to spend time on it instead of pursuing other activities. If you know you won’t solve it, don’t make it a goal of yours. Work on one thing at a time. Instead of making five resolutions that you’ll eventually abandon, make one big resolution to which you can devote all of your efforts. This doesn’t mean that you can only make one per year. Research just suggests that you should only focus on one resolution at a time. Translate your resolution into specific behaviors. Keeping resolutions usually means replacing old, bad habits with new, better ones. People who successfully change their habits achieve something called “habitual
automaticity” which means that they carry out their new habits without having to think about it. If you want to start flossing your teeth more, keep it out next to your toothbrush to remind yourself to floss. The more you practice, the more it becomes habit, and eventually you will floss without even thinking about it. Break your resolution into a specific behavior that you devote time to carrying out.
Make a routine. If you schedule time to solely focus on achieving your resolution, it will be accomplished! Just like finding time for homework and school, if you devote a little time every day, week, or month to your resolution, it’s more likely that it will be carried out.
Know your limits. If your resolution makes you neglect your health in any way and becomes an unhealthy obsession, it probably wasn’t a good idea in the first place.
Set reminders! Whether it’s a note on the fridge or bathroom mirror, or an alert on your phone, setting reminders is a good way to remain aware of your goals and that they need to be attended to.
As 2018 commences, set goals early on and plan the future. As the year goes on, take pride in the small achievements on the path to your goals. Doing so will help ensure that every future New Year’s Eve will not be filled with regret, but celebration.