New Year’s Resolutions and You: 4-week Check-up! (By Dr. Sarah Kent, ND)

Posted 7 years ago on

So, how are things going with your New Year’s Resolution(s)?  It has been a few weeks since the turn of the calendar year and possibly theNEW-YEARS-RESOLUTIONS-facebook same amount of time that you’ve been trying to incorporate some form of change into your life.  The following blog discusses some trends in research on why people fail and succeed in making changes.  So whether you’ve made resolutions or not, if you are curious about the science of change, read on.

Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and authors the book “Willpower Instinct & the Neuroscience of Change.” She offers a theory that suggests willpower isn’t just about resisting temptation but rather the integration of wanting change along with resisting short-term impulses that conflict with your longer-term goals.  McGonigal and others suggest these five strategies to making lasting change.

1)    Visualize failure – you are most likely able to visualize the perks of the change you want to make, however neglecting any road blocks that might get in your way of reaching your destination may serve to make them impassable or far more serious then they actually are.  The objective isn’t to focus on the obstacles but rather anticipate them to some degree so that you are not surprised and can negotiate them on your way to your destination.  For instance if you want to hit the gym four days a week but know that once you go home from work you are tired and just want to sit on the couch, try to go before work or right after lunch even if this means that your workout is shorter.  Or visualize coming home, being tired and going to the gym.  As discussed in this presentation, Kelly describes how study participants where more successful in integrating change when told to incorporate envisioning failure and obstacles

2)    Keep it in – keeping your desire for change in rather then declaring it may also be advantageous.  It is believed people who broadcast their goals are less likely to pursue as much time and effort at implement them and succeeding at them then those that kept it to themselves.  It is suggested that vocalizing goals is way to share the responsibility of your decision, having other people remind you or help you achieve your goals but this might deflect some of the intrinsic value of your decision and make you less likely to be okay with failure or roadblocks.

3)    Sleep you need it.  Change requires extra cognitive power to override potential impulses and integrate change.  Sleep is how we reset and get powered up to continue the next day.  Lack of sleep can influence decision fatigue, as discussed by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney in their book “Willpower”.  Decision fatigue can occur form too much processing in the brain; which may lead to impulsive or poor decision-making. So try and keep things as quiet in the brain as possible :).  You can do this by dealing with one task at a time and making clear decisions on things throughout the day.

 4)    Nutrition related to decision fatigue, balanced meals at regular intervals that include the right ratios of fats, protein and carbohydrate are ESSENTIAL for sustained energy and thus steady cognitive function.  This helps to prevent decision fatigue as suggested by Baumeister and Tierney.

5)    Keep it simple just that.  The body has an excellent ability to hang on to the status quo that currently defines your physiologic and mental processes.  Changes therefore are often best integrated in small consistent ways for best long-tern success.

I’m a firm believer that habits shine both a light and a shadow, meaning they’re serving you some sort of benefit and some disservice, in various degrees of course.   There is usually a reason why you choose to conduct your life in a certain way and so making changes to this process often has some fundamental repercussion. By removing the habit that casts a dark shadow you don’t want, you also take away the light it reflected. Examining the full aspects of some habit you want to change is a great experience that allows you to appreciate the reasons why it was there in the first place, make informed strategies on how to avoid it and to anticipate set backs and move past them.

Above all, Kelly McGonical stresses the need for compassion in making change.  Be kind to yourself and understanding when things both fail and succeed and focus on moving forward even if the forward movement comes with a few steps back every now and again.

 Best of luck and keep up the good work!


Kelly McGonical  h
Baumeister, R., Tierney, J. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. 2011 Penguin Books. USA.