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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Chase

Harnessing Habit: Transforming New Year’s Resolutions into Lasting Change

Everybody has made them, and some people have more success than others in keeping them. Research has shown though that we have a dismal record with over 90% of resolutions being abandoned in the first three months.  So why aren’t we more successful at keeping our New Year’s resolutions? 

Firstly, not all resolutions fail. Some are more successful than other; those with action orientated resolutions having a higher success rate than avoidance goals.  The main reasons cited for failure include setting overly ambitious goals, a lack of understanding of personal motivations, and being unprepared for the change process.

There is always a tremendous uptick in gym membership / usage at the start of the year the (the most common new year's resolution) but this tapers off over time. Why is there this huge motivation at the start? Neuroscience provides insights into the psychology of resolutions by explaining that setting a resolution activates the prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning, decision-making, and self-control. The prefrontal cortex signals the striatum, the brain's reward center, which releases dopamine, contributing to the positive feelings associated with achieving goals. But then we encounter the biggest obstacle of all - our brain's reluctance to change.

The initial burst of enthusiasm is what neuroscientists call brain activation whereby the brain starts to establish new pathways linked to that new activity. The problem is that the number one rule for the brain is efficiency - when it has found a habit even a unhealthy one such as couch surfing it will do everything it can to keep that habit even if its not good for us. You have got to prove to the brain that the new change is better for you. So to make that initial brain activation a permanent feature you need repetition. 

Visualizing and celebrating success along the way provides the brain with the evidence it needs to prove that your new choice is better than the old one. Patience is needed as this takes time and you can increase your chance of success by linking the new habit you are creating with a individual higher meaning. This is why psychologists suggest breaking down big goals into smaller, manageable steps and emphasizing the importance of understanding the underlying reasons for resolutions.

"Better three hours too soon than a minute too late" William Shakespeare 

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