New Year’s Resolutions: To Make or Not to Make!

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Haven’t we all, at some point, made some kind of dreamy goals that might have sounded too ambitious for a while at the beginning of every year? Whether resolutions are made at the beginning of the New Year, or at one's birthday as many people do, the point is that there is almost always a time in one's life when you would decide all of a sudden that your old self, habits or lifestyle are not working anymore, or at all for that matter; at that point emerges the resolution.

As Simple As That… or Is It?

People tend to view New Year’s resolutions as a mundane thing that will eventually pay off and that they will be able to achieve their goals no matter what. However, psychology has another outlook regarding this issue.

In a survey conducted by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, of over 3000 people who were asked about their strategies for achieving New Year’s resolutions, it was found that almost 88% of all resolutions fail. Not only do many of us fail achieving our annual-set goals, but this also affects our psyche and well-being. When failing to achieve a certain goal, people feel demotivated and lose interest in their pursuit towards their goal(s).

For instance, weight loss is among the most frequent resolutions among different people. It is found that the first two weeks of the year, people are eager to fulfill their aims, by February they tend to slow down, and by the end of the year, they are back to point zero or they could even be further behind, which can have damaging effects to their self-esteem.

Many scientists, especially psychologists, have carried out thorough studies on this issue; findings vary according to each study. However, there are some common points among those findings that we can pinpoint here. According to Timothy Pychyl, a Professor of Psychology at Carleton University in Canada, people are often unready to change their habits, particularly their bad ones. There is another theory by Psychology Professor Peter Herman who identified, along with his colleagues, what is called “False hope” syndrome, where people set unrealistic goals that are not aligned with their own readiness to tackle such dreams or work on certain decisions.

Untangling the Mystery

According to Wiseman’s study on 3000 people, it was found that many of those who failed in fulfilling their resolutions usually focus on the downside of not fulfilling their wishes. It was also found that those who were able to carry out their decisions tend to break their resolutions and goals into smaller steps and rewarded themselves when they reached each milestone.

The core problem of New Year’s resolutions is people’s tendency to list more than one goal and decide all of a sudden to work on all of them at once. Thus, spreading resolutions over the entire year is a more adequate option that is harmonious with our self-control, which is the main key to fulfilling one’s utmost potentials.

Psychologists believe that self-awareness and realization of one’s own limitations are the first steps to fixing what is known as willpower flaws. It turns out that there is a physiological basis to this hypothesis. The brain area responsible for willpower is the prefrontal cortex, which is located just behind the forehead; it has many functions other than willpower, such as keeping us focused, handling short-term memory, and solving abstract problems. It is no surprise then that if we subject that area to multiple duties that demand strong will, it will become overloaded with too many activities. That is why, after a long stressful day at work, we find it hard to resist the temptation of a big fatty meal, even if we do not necessarily need to have it.

Do We Give Up Then?

Learning how stubborn our willpower or mind is does not mean that we give up. On the contrary, a better understanding of our psyche and how our minds process certain commands and deal with our needs and wants can significantly help us improve our strategies to fulfill our wants and needs.

Here are five tips that will help you carry out your New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Do not wait until New Year's Eve to make resolutions; whenever you want to make a change about yourself or your lifestyle, go ahead and do not postpone.
  2. Set realistic, specific and measurable goals. If you want to lose weight, good for you, but this is not a specific goal. Instead, set your eyes upon losing 10 kilograms in 6 months.
  3. Focus on one resolution at a time, and if any of your goals is too big or will extend over a very long period of time, take small steps and set milestones.
  4. Once you achieve a little victory or meet a certain milestone, go ahead and celebrate; do not wait for the goal to be finally completed.
  5. Finally, do not take your goals or resolutions too seriously; have fun and ease the stress that you may be feeling.

References
psychologytoday.com
guardian.co.uk
online.wsj.com
neatorama.com
cbsnews.com


*The original article was published in the PSC Newsletter, 2nd School Semester 2011/2012.

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