Happy 2023!! It’s that time of year again for New Year’s Resolutions. As you read this, you may be smiling with excitement and anticipation for a start to make positive changes in your life, and the new year marks a new beginning (cue in The Optimist). Or you may be rolling your eyes at the idea that resolutions are a setup for failure (cue in The Not-So-Optimist based on years of personal experience).
Or the Not-So-Optimist is more of The Realist after all? Statistics show that of the 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, only 9% were successful in keeping them by the end of the year. The most popular New Year’s resolutions for the past ten years are to lose weight, save money, eat and live healthier (sciencedirect.com). It is important to remember that to make New Year’s resolutions successful such as eating healthier or saving money; you usually have to give up an old habit and start a new behavior, making the new behavior the new routine. For instance, stop spending and start saving. However, a habit is a behavior our brain has learned to produce without thinking about it. A resolution takes conscious effort to create.
No one is quite sure how long it takes to break an old habit or create a new habit. Different resources say anywhere from 21 days to 2 years. However, they agree that habits are learned through repetition and formed quicker when the behavior is often small, specific, and easy to do. Furthermore, motivation to continue the new behavior is often reinforced by our brain’s reward system. Dr. Andrew Huberman, Associate Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford School of Medicine, states that when we receive rewards, even when we give ourselves the reward, our brain then associates less and less pleasure with the behavior or activity that evoked the reward. The best way to achieve our New Year’s resolutions is to develop a Growth Mindset (Dr. Carol Dwek, Stanford University). A Growth Mindset is when a person is striving to be better, and striving is the end goal. Or when the person striving accesses reward from just the effort of doing the behavior or activity itself. Just remember, “it’s the journey, not the destination” that is the reward.
So, rewarding yourself for your efforts, or as Dr. Huberman calls it, “layering in other sources of dopamine to be able to continue”, will actually create more struggle to reach your resolution. Rather, attach the feeling of friction and effort to an internally generated reward system. You can do this by pushing through and telling yourself that “although this is painful, I chose this, I love it, and this is what I want.” For more information on motivation, please see the video below.