With the celebrations of the New Year and the subsequent hangovers now firmly behind us, scientists estimate that a mere 22% of us are still sticking to our New Year’s resolutions. Whether it was to lose the Christmas pounds and then some, lay off the chocolate/alcohol for a while or to finally stop procrastinating, few of us keep up with these goals into February.
Why the high failure rate? Well, our brains are designed to make us fail.
The pre-frontal cortex (directly behind your forehead) is the area essential for controlling and maintaining willpower. However, this area is also responsible staying focused, handling short term memory and solving abstract tasks. In short, this area can be thought of as a muscle, one which needs to be trained to be able to undertake large tasks such as staying off Facebook for an entire year.
The good news is that willpower is not a character trait, we are not born with it, we acquire it. This may explain why people who have previously given up chocolate for lent can continue to do so year after year, whilst those of us who sweepingly declare on January 1st that it will never pass our lips again, with no previous experience of self-discipline, struggle and ultimately fail.
Another problem with resolutions are that they generally aren’t specific enough. A good resolution is instinctual, with the key being to make the behaviour a habit first. For example, “Eat a piece of fruit instead of a bacon sandwich in the morning” is a better, more achievable goal than “Eat healthier”. Breaking down resolutions to their simplest step has shown to increase success rates up to 50%. A behaviour takes 66 days to become a habit, so stick it out for 2 months and it will become second nature to refuse that cigarette on a night out.
Psychologists have also discovered that “false hope syndrome” can also be to blame for the high failure rate. By setting wildly unrealistic goals and thinking they will drastically improve your life, if we see no improvement then we become discouraged, lose motivation and revert back to our old ways.
So, how to get back on track with your resolutions?
- Only have 1 resolution – more than one resolution is impossible for your brain to achieve, so make it a good one!
- Tell others what you are hoping to achieve – studies have shown that increased social support help decrease anxiety and stress levels. Making a competition out of it can help those who enjoy a challenge, and also the embarrassment of telling your friends that you have failed can be a great motivator.
- Reward yourself – an occasional biscuit is better than giving up and gorging on chocolate for days. Knowing that a reward is in sight can greatly increase resolve.
- Realise that you might fail, but keep at it anyway – don’t beat yourself up if you miss the third spinning class in a row, blame your pre-frontal cortex if you have to, but you are going to have to get back on the horse (or bike) if you want to be showing off your glutes come 2014!