Here’s why it’s so hard to keep your New Year’s resolutions

Running race
Running a marathon may not be the most realistic New Year’s resolution. peterm7/Flickr

If you’re like many of us, you probably set yourself ambitious resolutions for the New Year to eat better, do more exercise, or land a killer job.

So why is it so hard to stick to these goals?

The answer comes down to several reasons:

They’re unrealistic

As Ray Williams, an executive coach and the author of several books on business leadership, reports in Psychology Today, our resolutions are often not realistic. Psychologist Peter Herman and his colleagues coined the term “false hope syndrome” to describe how unrealistic expectations can lead to a cycle of failure and continued attempts to change.

In a 2009 study published in the journal Behaviour Therapy, Herman and his colleagues recruited 76 female students in a psychology class, and randomly assigned them to three groups.

One group was asked to work up to exercising four times per week for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity, and engage in an hour of physical activity every day, such as walking or biking. Another group was asked to work up to meditating four times per week for 30 minutes and to incorporate an hour of relaxation each day. A third group was not given a resolution.

As the researchers predicted, the exercise group had high expectations about their resolutions immediately after making them. Also as predicted, neither the women in the exercise group nor the meditation group succeeded as well as they expected. On the other hand, having higher expectaitons for a resolution did not make the women less likely to achieve it.

The researchers concluded that while resolutions may help people make some changes, “most resolutions are likely to end in disappointment.”

They’re too focused on outcomes

Struggle rock climbing

Another reason we may fail at resolutions is that we may be thinking about them the wrong way, at least according to Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy. As Tech Insider reports, our New Year’s resolutions may be too negative, overly ambitious, or too focused on outcomes.

For years, Cuddy told Tech Insider, she resolved to become a runner and run marathons. So every January she would struggle to run for a few weeks, then give up after a few miles.

The reason she failed was because she was intent on becoming a marathoner, and not focused enough on the process of working up to it.

Change is hard

Finally, even when we’re intent on changing ourselves for the better, it’s not an easy process.

As clinical psychologist Joseph Luciani writes in US News & World Report, “The unfortunate truth is that change, all change, entails some degree of emotional friction, which in turn generates a ‘heated state’ we call stress.”

And that stress is what dooms us to fail.

Overcoming that stress takes a lot of self-discipline. It’s not something you’re born with, it’s something you have to develop, like a muscle, Luciani writes.

So if you’re having a hard time sticking to don’t be so hard on yourself — you’re better off making resolutions you can actually stick to, and recognising that it’s not easy to change overnight.

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