The Science Behind New Year’s Resolutions

THE SCIENCE BEHIND NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS

New Year's Resolutions

Everyone knows what New Year resolution is. We are all in some way making them, voluntarily, or not. New Year is a very special date in our lives, we understand the change and feel that we need to portray it on ourselves.

The desire to accomplish something or to change an undesired trait or behaviour is strong by the end of the year, or actually by the end of a cycle one feel most comfortably with. For me it is my birthday and start of a new school year.
 
To stop smoking is one of the most common resolution along with saving money, getting healthier or just exercising more in general.
 
Even though all these are undoubtedly very desirable objectives, 80% of resolutions fail by February.
 
And here’s why.

where did new year's resolutions come from?

Historians believe that this tradition originated from Babylonian Kingdom, concretely from the festival called Akitu. People were fasting and praying to gods for a better upcoming year. We can probably find this in every culture, as well as in a Roman Empire. Julius Caesar established the first day in new year to be the first of January. This served as a appreciation of a god Janus. He also told his people to pray and to transform into better person next year.

However psychologists today say that resolutions have very logical meaning. When we are changing calendars we feel distant from our past selves and we tend to overlook our current imperfections. We are more prone to look into the future with rose tinted glasses and full of energy after the holidays. We are setting very high goals that are often not realistic at all. 

It's all in the brain

New Year’s resolutions are inherently intertwined with willpower. The centre of willpower is the prefrontal cortex, a part of a brain right behind our forehead. This part of the brain is also responsible for decision-making and self-control. Some people say that the brain should be trained as a muscle and prefrontal cortex is not an exception.

An author of a book called The Willpower Instinct Kelly McGonigal, PhD says that the willpower is actually something that can run out, thus it is finite. Brain – muscle connection is there, so according to her and other psychologists we should train our brain. 
 
But back to resolutions and why they are failing so badly.

Vague And Unrealistic Goals

The problem with most of them is supposedly lack of conciseness. 

That means those resolutions are very vague, they discuss broadly matters and are not in any way measurable. Sometimes they are even extremely hard to achieve, and undoubtedly create an immense pressure on people. 
 
If you are really considering writing some of them, you shouldn’t think of something along the lines of “getting healthy” or “exercise more” because what do these create in your mind? What picture do they paint?
 
What means more? More in terms of what? More than Victoria Secret models, more than you last year, more than your friend Jessica? It is extremely broad and after couple days when those emotions of excitement about new beginnings run out, you wouldn’t even know what you wanted in the start.
 
You’ll just feel stressed about it and unhappy with your current pace. Therefore you will stop doing everything.
 
This is a very common scenario for many people. They are doing the resolutions just for the sake of doing them, and than blame the actual time of New Year for being the cause. But in reality it’s not New Year that stemmed up the problem, yet their broad statements and stressing their brains out. 
new years
new years resolution

So, how to fix that?

There are some simple steps you can do to ensure your resolutions will past the February and hopefully you will develop a new habit. 

1. Setting up small challenges and goals that advance you to your desirable objective.

In example this means that instead of writing down “I will be healthier” you will write something like “I will eat 2 kinds of vegetables everyday.” You can even do this for one week and if it doesn’t work out, you’ll try something different, or manage your challenge along your preference.
You can also add challenges as time passes by. By another week you will have cut the sugar by 50% and so on.
 
Important: Never try reducing something completely in a small period of time. You will probably fail and feel miserably about it. Not only it is very hard to achieve cutting all sugar for example, but your body will crave it immensely. You can’t break a habit by 3 days without sugar or chocolate. The researchers said that you need to do something for 66 days so it can become your habit.
(By erasing old habits you’re creating new ones.)
new years

2. Try something that is measurable.

Not only when gaining or losing weight it is important to add a way to measure your challenges. If we don’t see success (or a change) we probably won’t continue. Because, why would we?
 
Adding this variable to New Year resolutions is great in helping us achieve the goals we wanted. 

3. Don't overkill.

We all want everything. Especially I do. I always try to do the most with my time and achieving everything I possibly can. But that’s not a way.

You’ll just become a stressed out person who won’t ever rest. Especially in New Year resolutions. If you set one goal and achieve it, it would be way better than creating 10 and achieving nothing.

4. Do you really want it?

Worst way of setting our resolutions is making them based on another people’s preferences, or even on our own remorse. Scientists say that resolutions that come out with a positive attitude are far more achievable than those that are not. If you’re feeling very bad about your habit, it’s probably not going to work out. You need to add a positive aspect to it, therefore you want to change the habit and make a new one.
 
If a goal isn’t really relevant to you, why even bothering with achieving it in the first place?
new years resolutions right

In conclusion

You can also work on your willpower in order to train your brain. Many say that meditation is an amazing way to become more strong as an individual. But less stressful life and less things to worry about are also ways to have prefrontal cortex more relaxed. So it can also focus on your New Year’s resolutions. 
 
Happy New Year! 

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