Why resolutions never stick

If you are one of the millions of people to have made a news years resolution, you may already be struggling to keep it. According to polls and surveys, approximately 80% of people have ‘failed’ their new years resolution by the second week in February and only 8% of people actually keep them for the whole year. That’s a pretty large drop out when you consider the amount of people who promise to change when the New Year rolls in. But why do so many people fall short of their goals?

It comes down to a phenomenon named ‘False Hope Syndrome’. This is quite simply where the goal in question is too large or is expected to be completed in an unrealistic amount of time. An example of the former could be ‘in 2019 I will work out every day’. With exercise the most popular resolution each year, this is a common goal set. But unless you’re an Olympic athlete (and even they have rest days) it is nearly impossible to work out every day due to life commitments and fatigue. People get discouraged as they aren’t achieving their goal and consequently stop trying to reach it. Alternatively, false hope syndrome can occur when people are unrealistic about the speed at which their goal can be achieved. If results are not instantaneous, people lose hope and lose the positive input from believing what they are doing is working. This positive stimulus, endorphins, helps motivate people to continue with a task by providing a burst of happy hormones. It is therefore important to break a goal down in to smaller steps, as we humans always want instant gratification. By breaking the goal down, we reach the first step earlier, giving us a boost as we have achieved a tangible part of our goal. These boosts make us more likely to complete all the steps as our brain receives positive feedback whenever completing a step.

The average time it takes for a person to break or gain a new habit is 66 days, which sounds like a long time… But there are ways to make starting or breaking a habit easier. Psychologists have found a few methods which if implemented can help us achieve our goals. One method of keeping new habits is to add them to an already existing action. For example, if wanting to get more exercise you could walk to work or uni. As going to work or uni is something we all already have to do, this becomes a cue for the new habit of exercise. By creating this link between a current habit and a new habit, the connections in the brain are linked and are therefore stronger. This approach also works for breaking a habit. If the replacement behaviour is linked to the habit you are trying to break you are more likely to succeed. For example, chewing nicotine gum instead of smoking is a more successful way of stopping smoking than using a nicotine patch is. Psychologists also state that it is important to think about the habit loop when trying to start a new habit. This loop comprises of a cue, action, and reward. You are more likely to bring on a new habit if you reward yourself for doing it, such as buying yourself a fancy coffee after a long study session in Laidlaw or allowing yourself a bar of chocolate after making a home cooked meal. (Or whatever else may appeal to you, if psychology says to reward yourself I’m not complaining…) One final tip to keep your resolutions is to tell people what they are. You may have seen instagrammers plastering their goals all over their story and there is good reason for it. Letting people know your goals means you are more likely to keep them as you feel accountable if you don’t. It also makes people more likely to support you with your goal.

So, if you are starting to waver on your goals for 2019 and are feeling bad about it: just stick with it until the second week in February. By then you’ll have done better than 80% of people.

By Laura Krusin

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