It is once again, that time of the year—time to make a New Year’s resolution. Whether it is getting in shape, going back to school or something more simple, some researchers say this might be the worst time of the year to set such goals.
“We are exhausted, we are over travelled, overeating, overspending,” said Psychotherapist Nicole McCance. “And now we are supposed to change our lives?”
A study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol in the UK, shows that 88 per cent of those who set resolutions fail despite over half feeling confident they’ll be able to achieve their goals.
That study suggests most people over do it with their choice of resolutions. It’s hard enough to quit smoking, but throw in dropping twenty pounds and getting your law degree, and goals quickly become unattainable.
“By January 30, they feel defeated, disappointed and ashamed that they did not do it,” said McCance.
On the bright side, 88 per cent failure still means 12 per cent success. So some people are finding a way to conquer the barriers around this time of year and achieve their goals. According to a study by professor Baba Shiv from the University of Stanford, there is a reason for that.
Shiv performed an experiment with 165 undergraduates from the University of Stanford. He then divided this group into two, giving each a task. He asked one group to memorize a seven digit number, and the other to memorize a two digit number. Two tasks which vary widely in difficulty. Both groups were then given an option for a snack: a fruit salad or a piece of chocolate cake. Amazingly, almost all of those who had to memorize the 7-digit number chose the slice of cake and almost all of those in the other group chose the fruit salad.
Shiv says this is because those who had the more difficult task were at a disadvantage in terms of making the healthier decision. In his study, he says the people memorizing the seven digit number were more likely to pick the cake because their rational brain was distracted. While trying to remember the longer number, their emotions got the better of them leading to their unhealthy decision. So how can you be a part of that twelve per cent that actually succeeds- other than avoiding long numbers?
Dr. Mike McKee from the Cleveland Clinic says it is all about attainable goals and accountability.
“Most people make these grandiose resolutions that they are going to be healthier, they are going to lose weight, they are going to exercise more and they are going to save money,” said McKee. “What you need is a specific prescription for action.”
Psychotherapist Nicole McCance says the best trick for realise New Year’s goals are to keep changes small and know that when you start doing one thing, you are giving up another.
So, while there is no clear cut recipe for achieving that elusive resolution, keeping it simple is definitely to your advantage. Oh, and good luck avoiding that piece of cake.