Why 88% of New Years' resolutions fail

Jonah Lehrer wrote an excellent article for the Wall Street Journal on why New Year’s resolutions fail.

Quick overview of reasons:

  • The more overloaded our brain is with ‘stuff’ (including resolutions we need to keep track of), the weaker its willpower is. We need to spread our resolutions across the year.
  • Just like a muscle, our will-power has limited capacity – don’t make it do too much or you’ll lose self-control.
  • Again, just like a muscle, exercising will-power uses up energy (glucose), so beware if you’re trying to lose weight as a resolution – starving yourself will reduce your will-power.
  • When you reach the inevitable point of temptation, distract yourself rather than trying to power through.
  • Will-power can be trained and training it in one domain (eg posture) increases will-power in others

I really recommend the article, it’s great stuff. You can also find Jonah’s blog here.

7 Comments

  • scheng1 says:

    It might be better for us not to make any resolution than to have one and then fail.
    I think most people are making new year resolution out for show rather than seriously want to succeed.
    .-= scheng1´s last blog ..Reflection on Reading Newspaper Obituaries =-.

  • I advise clients to do the best they can with these resolutions — be it to work out at the gym three times a week, eat more fruits and vegetables, be nicer to co-workers, whatever — but consider the resolution a ‘good enough’ task.

    Good enough means that if you forget or don’t follow through on the resolution one day or week, don’t punish yourself. Instead of, “I blew my resolution — I suck,” look at things another way.

    Tell yourself. “OK, I blew my New Year’s resolution just for today, for this moment in time.” Then get back to whatever it is you vowed to do.
    .-= Dr. Katrina Wood´s last blog ..Things that go bump in your life =-.

  • Warren Davies says:

    scheng,

    Perhaps so. My resolution this year was to not make a new years’ resolution. So far I’m sticking to it well, but I do get urges from time to time…

    Katrina,

    Excellent point! Maybe it’s the black or white thinking that makes resolutions harder to stick to – if someone slips of their diet for a few days, is that the resolution failed or just those three days?

  • Glenn Magas says:

    If we want to start something new, we need to stop something old, right? That’s one reason why Resolutions do not work. If you want to join a gym to get healthy, you also need to give up junk food! If you want to have more money, you need to stop spending money!

    I never succeeded in so-called NYR… but I have succeeded in actual goals because goals usually take a plan: a written one. NYR’s usually are just ideas that pop into your head that disappear when something else comes up.
    .-= Glenn Magas´s last blog ..Win $300 By mentioning Snipsly.com =-.

  • Andy Boe says:

    Hi there,

    Very interesting post. I have often thought that everything can be tracked back to a biological process.

    From this you could surmise that to have better will power you must eat well to keep glycogen topped up.

    Andrew

  • Kim@hgh says:

    Hi Warren

    88% is horrible figure. Some nice advice though.

    I came across a book that you might have heard of “Getting things done.” Quite helpful in completing tasks effectively.

    Thanks

    • Warren Davies says:

      Yes, Getting Things Done is a classic. I also like a related book, Zen To Done which is a simplified version of the GTD system. Google it; you can download for free if interested.

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