Why New Year's Resolutions Rarely Work
Here is the reason, on page 152 of this book, The Willpower Instinct. My wife got it for me for Christmas. When I read this, it made me laugh out loud, so I thought I would share it with you:
Vowing to change fills us with hope. We love to imagine how making the change will transform our lives, and we fantasize about the person we will become. Research shows that deciding to start a diet makes people feel stronger, and planning to exercise makes people feel taller. (Nobody said these fantasies were realistic.) People will treat us differently, we tell ourselves. Everything will be different. The bigger the goal, the bigger the burst of hope. And so when we decide to change, it's tempting to give ourselves some very large assignments. Why set a modest goal when setting a gigantic goal will make us feel even better? Why start small when you can dream big?
Unfortunately, the promise of change -- like the promise of reward and the promise of relief -- rarely delivers what we're expecting. Unrealistic optimism may make us feel good in the moment, but it sets us up to feel much worse later on. The decision to change is the ultimate in instant gratification -- you get all the good feelings before anything's been done. (That's the part that got me to laugh out loud.)
But the challenge of actually making a change can be a rude awakening, and the initial rewards are rarely as transformative as our most hopeful fantasies ("I lost five pounds and I still have a crappy job."). As we face our fist setbacks, the initial feel-good rush of deciding to change is replaced with disappointment and frustration. Failing to meet our expectations triggers the same old guilt, depression and self-doubt, and the emotional payoff of vowing to change is gone. At this point, most people will abandon their efforts altogether. It's only when we are feeling out of control and in need of another hit of hope that we'll vow to change -- and start the cycle all over. (That's where I nodded in newfound wisdom and understanding.)
ALL THAT BEING SAID, I'm happy to report that I haven't smoked a cigarette in over two years! I quit on 12/13/2010. There is a post about it on the DP here somewhere.
Whoever is making New Year Resolutions this year, I hope the above is of some use. I am one of those people. After quitting smoking, I gained a few pounds. (Ok, more than a few). I'm moving into middle age. Now is the time not only to take them off -- I've done that in the past -- but to keep them off.
If anyone here has a resolution, please post it in the comments below. This is a great book! If you're serious about making changes in your life, I highly recommend it, and I'll be sharing more observations and insights in the coming days & weeks.
Happy New Year everyone! May 2013 be your best year yet.