I Solemnly Swear… That I May or May not Keep my Resolutions

Posted by on Feb 9, 2016 in Blog, Health, Lifestyle | 0 comments

Success Go Get It

Your New Year’s Resolutions Are Causing You to Fail

It’s the end of January and you made a laundry list of New Year’s Resolutions. A few of them are likely the same as the ones you made last year. A progress report has you ready to quit before the beginning of February, while one month ago you were motivated. What happens each year to the resolutions we are so dedicated to? Is there a better way to make the desired changes to your lifestyle?

First, we have to understand why this system is broken. According to professor of psychology Timothy Pychyl of Carlton University, these resolutions are a form of “cultural procrastination.”1 Basically, we aren’t ready for the goals we set, so we set them to motivate ourselves. This year, my resolution was to be less cluttered. But, I simultaneously added about three new responsibilities to my calendar. I made the resolution to force motivation and change my habits, without any infrastructure to support it.

Those unrealistic goals can lead to “false hope syndrome.”2 You start the new year making a positive affirmation about yourself that you are going to be a healthier, fitter you. But, you don’t really believe it about yourself. This can cause a nasty cycle and one that can deeply damage self-esteem. New Year’s Resolutions become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. You feel badly about some aspect of your life (be it fitness, health, or budget) and you want to make a change. You set a lofty goal, hope you can get there, but see yourself as the embodiment of that bad habit. Life happens, you fall behind, and then fail. You feel worse than before.

Just like the butterflies of a new relationship, motivation about goals will subside with time. According to researchers at MIT, instead of relying on that fire, the trick is to rewire your brain; to set down the path to a new lifestyle you subconsciously follow without effort.3 Creating a new neural pathway around your goal can make it much easier to succeed.4

What makes you feel good? “Well, eating a pizza, actually.” But, in reality, after eating pizza you feel like you’ve failed which makes all those feel-good hormones dissipate pretty quickly. “Okay, so, maybe taking a walk.” You feel accomplished, productive, proud of your choice. Those feel-good hormones can help you establish habits. In the beginning, you’ll have to just make the choice, because the neural pathway hasn’t been built. As the brain and body sync up with those feel-good rewards, it becomes habit to pick the option in line with your resolutions.

No one starts their first job with the goal of getting hired as CEO. Don’t pick your end goal as your resolution. Today, if you’re reevaluating your goals, step back and pick something you know is within your limits. Pick something easy, almost boring. Meeting even a small goal creates a feeling of success which encourages the brain to continue meeting the goal. In order to build a new lifestyle and break the cycle, small changes are important. Going into February, don’t throw your Resolutions out the window. Just rework them.


1, 2: Williams, Ray. “Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” Psychology Today, 27 Dec 2010. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201012/why-new-years-resolutions-fail

3: Delude, Cathryn M. “Brain researchers explain why old habits die hard.” MIT News, 19 Oct 2005. http://news.mit.edu/2005/habit

4: Alban, Deane. “Rewire Your Brain for New Healthy Habits.” Bebrainfit.com. http://bebrainfit.com/rewire-brain-habits/

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