1/7/10

A New Approach to Resolutions

It’s a new year and for many that means new resolutions. Making the list of self improvements is easy – the hard part is sticking to them.

In a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article three social and decision science professors at Carnegie Mellon explain why most people go wrong when they rely on their “willpower” – the strength and determination to keep impulses and actions in check.

Professors George Loewenstein, Carey Morewedge and Golnaz Tabibnia found that the most common New Year’s resolutions involve more than willpower – they tap the “habit system” part of the brain. The habit system encompasses any learned skill.

It’s slow to develop, but once it does, it’s even more difficult to overcome. For most of our resolutions – say, losing 10 pounds – it’s as much about breaking a bad habit (poor food choices) as it is sticking to a new plan.

Three psychological tendencies make it even harder – read more about them in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

The good news?

New Year’s resolutions aren’t a lost cause once you understand how your brain handles the changes. According to Loewenstein, Morewedge and Tabibnia, there are several tactics you can use.

Instead of quitting a bad habit cold turkey or starting a new one full-force, try setting small, achievable goals for yourself. Also, your social group is influential, so consider surrounding yourself with a supportive network. Finally, altering your environment can both alleviate temptation and supply motivation.

Happy New Year!

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