The clock is running out and as the fireworks are loaded into their cannons (or whatever you load fireworks into). You can’t wait to start the New Year fresh – turning over a new leaf and turning into a new you.
Along with this new and improved “you” the long list of New Year’s resolutions seem to pile up and you’ll promise to follow them this time, unlike the previous times where you’ve deviated from the path but what makes this year so different? Shouldn’t we just abandon the whole idea all together or are New Year’s resolutions the key to a bigger and better 2014?
We jump onto the idea of setting goals for ourselves determined to achieve them throughout the year but a year is a very long time and we sometimes end up disappointing ourselves if we don’t succeed. According to the researcher Richard Wiseman 88% of Americans who set New Year’s resolutions fail and that’s just in America.
Why are New Year’s resolutions usually a fail?
We as mere mortals require willpower to fulfil our resolutions; located in the prefrontal cortex or the area right behind your forehead are the brain cells that generate willpower. That part of the human brain is also responsible for you focussing, handling short-term memory and solving abstract tasks. According to Stanford Prof. Baba Shiv, sometimes the amounts of will power needed to achieve those big long term goals are too much for your brain to handle. Prof. Shiv conducted the following experiment to explain the whole situation better:
Undergraduates were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember whilst the other was given a seven-digit number. Then, after a short walk through the halls, they were offered the choice between a slice of chocolate cake and a bowl of fruit. The students with seven digit numbers were twice as likely to pick the slice of chocolate cake compared to the two digit number students. According to Prof. Shiv, it’s very obvious: “Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert.”
This doesn’t mean that we’re set up for failure it just means that we need to consider what we put on that list of ours. It’s nearly impossible for your brain to focus on your resolution if you’ve set an abstract goal. BJ Fogg from Stanford University says people need to tie their specific resolutions to a specific behaviour or make it a habit.
Turning a resolution into a habit, tricks our brains into actually achieving something. Instead of saying I want to lose weight you make it a habit by deciding every evening after work, you’ll go for a 2-3 minute run or walk around the block.
Trying to set those resolutions:
Small steps at a time
Penelope Trunk wrote “People who have huge success reach that success by doing something small each day. Success is not about blowing people’s minds with your greatness, it’s about showing up and doing your small thing each day.” Taking baby steps will increase your willpower as you go along, setting unrealistic goals that are super hard to achieve only makes it that much harder for yourself and makes the disappointment platform that much bigger. If you start small and you achieve your goal, you’ll still feel that much more pleasure than say feeling disgusted because you can’t accomplish anything.
Do it for yourself
A lot of people make their resolutions with others in mind but it’s important that they are your goals set by your standards, not everyone has the same amounts of willpower and people tend to set their goals because a friend is doing it and it seems cool. The reason this is so ridiculous is because if you fail the fall will be that much further and harder. If your friend succeeds her success will be a constant reminder. You have to motivate yourself thus set goals with your mentality and body in mind.
Goal vs. process
If you’ve set your goal – let it be, stop thinking about the outcome and start thinking about the process. Even before you write down that goal think long and hard about what it will take to get there. How much of your time will it take, does it cost a lot of money or will you be stepping on some one’s toes in the process?
Tell the world
Yes it’s important to set your goals and resolutions to your standards but if you tell someone who knows you almost as well as you know yourself the motivation levels are that much higher. If people know about your goals, they’ll remind you of it, ask about it and the little amount of added pressure might just be what you need in order to reach that goal. You might even consider talking to a best friend or your parents about your resolutions – gather their opinion on the matter and take what they say into consideration, it’s always best to get a second opinion.
Will a New Year’s resolution really make that much of a difference?
In all honesty making resolutions in the New Year is like birthday cake to me. I don’t want to wait until my birthday to eat cake! If I feel like something sweet and tasty now – then I’ll go out and eat it now! Same goes for improving this new found “you”. If you realise that you want to start losing weight, don’t wait for a new millennium as an excuse to start. Writing a list in the beginning of the year of things you want to change about yourself or do better in the future won’t motivate you any more than it will when you write them in July.
Your whole year should be about setting goals and trying your best to fulfil them in your own time and because the first of January says it’s a requirement. Happy New Year!