The psychology behind New Year’s resolutions that actually stick

According to a Marist Poll, 44% of us ( http://
maristpoll.marist.edu/tag/new-years-resolutions/
%20 ) will make a resolution for 2015. Like
previous years, we will once again resolve to lose
weight, get organized, save more money, and enjoy
life to the fullest.
For real, this time.
But have you ever wondered why new year’s
resolutions fail despite your best intentions?
The pattern is dismally familiar. You promise
yourself that “I am going to lose weight next year.”
You eat nutritiously for a few days and start going
to the gym. Then, in a moment of weakness, you
binge on leftover cake and chocolate-chip cookies,
feel bad about your lack of willpower, slip back
into old habits and give up.
Now, thanks to advances in brain science and
behavioral research on motivation and habits,
experts understand these frustrating patterns of
our behavior better than ever before. By putting
their insights to work, you can build more
willpower and achieve more of your goals over
time.
So what does science tell us about goals,
motivation and how to stay on track?
First, writing down your goals is critical if you
want to accomplish them. Then comes the harder
parts:
Tip #1: Connect your goals to something
personally meaningful to you.
You are more likely to stay on track with goals
when they’re important, interesting or enjoyable for
you. This happens when you connect your goals to
your deepest values and aspirations.
Why is it really important for you to lose weight?
Is it because it improves your feelings of self-
worth and gives you energy to do other things; or
is it because it allows you to be more active and makes you feel more attractive? Whatever it
is, connecting your goals to these personal and
emotional benefits are important in achieving
them.
Tip #2: Break your goals into smaller milestones
Longer-term goals are never achieved in one go.
You need to break longer term goals into smaller
tasks or milestones. Accomplishing these
milestones will give you a clear sense of progress,
let you celebrate small wins and keep you
motivated.
Tip #3: Make your milestones immediate and
specific
Remember the motivation you have just before a
deadline? Milestones should aim to create a
similar sense of urgency in you by making them as
immediate and specific as possible. Getting started
is one of the hardest things in accomplishing a
goal. Therefore, the most important task to make
immediate is the first. “Lose on pound this week”
is good but “Consume 2,000 calories or less
today” may be even better.
Goal example: “Lose 15 pounds by June”
Milestone example: “Lose one pound this week”
Tip #4: Let others know about your specific goals
Letting your friends, family or co-workers know
about your goals make it more likely that you will
succeed. Research shows that this works only
when your goals are verifiable. “Write more” is
vague but “Write 500 words every week” is
verifiable. No one likes to be seen as weak-willed
so committing to goals in front of others increases
your motivation to achieve them.
Tip #5: Make a “Fresh Start” in case of setbacks
Wharton business school professor Katherine
Milkman and her colleagues have done research on
the role timing of resolutions plays in building up
motivation and overcoming inertia. They have
labeled it the “fresh start effect.”
In an interview with Strategy + Business ( http://
http://www.strategy-business.com/article/00266?
pg=all ) , Milkman says:
> “at the beginning of a new week, the start of a
new month, following a birthday, or after a holiday
from work, people redouble their efforts to achieve
their goals.
>
> Why? Because … we’re always striving to be
better. And when we can wipe out all those failures and look at a clean slate, it
makes us feel more capable and drives us
forward.”
According to the University of Scranton Journal of
Clinical Psychology ( http://
http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-
statistics/%20 ) , people who explicitly make
resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their
goals than people who don’t explicitly make them.
So go ahead. Make a fresh start and commit to a
new year resolution. Make allowances in your mind
that failure and setbacks can occur but that you
can always start over—and resolve to succeed.
You can follow Fawad on Twitter @FZakariya (
http://www.twitter.com/FZakariya ) . We welcome
your comments at ideas@qz.com
( mailto: ideas@qz.com ) .

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2 thoughts on “The psychology behind New Year’s resolutions that actually stick

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