It’s the age-old cycle: You make a resolution for the New Year to alter a critical aspect of your life — lose weight or study better or save more money.
Inevitably, that conviction crumbles within the month. Surrounded by similarly dedicated resolutioners, you start out strong, promising yourself that this will be the year.
But your busy schedule gets the best of you. Or your lack of conviction. Or any number of other common excuses.
The renewed calendar year presents a uniquely and singularly optimistic opportunity to break a poor habit or build a new one, but only an estimated 10 percent of New Year's resolutions are actually kept.
Clearly, those who can maintain a resolution year-long are an elite group, so what are you, the 90 percent, doing wrong?
The problem is overoptimism, or more aptly, overconfidence. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of the holiday season and the breaks from school and set an unrealistic goal based on abnormal circumstances. Google Trends data shows interest in the search terms ‘diets,’ ‘workouts,’ ‘saving money’ and ‘hobbies’ peak annually in January, only to drop off until the next year.
In the revived optimism of the New Year, you fall into the trap of expecting rewards without putting in the work. You set a resolution and expect a short-term solution, but going to the gym twice will not make you lose twenty pounds. Straightening up your house will not alter your habits for the cleaner. Putting away a dollar now will not fill your bank account. According to U.S. News, 80 percent of resolutions fail just a month after inception in February due to this impatient expectation of prompt results.
But fear not: You can still forge a new habit.
By linking habits you already consistently perform with those you hope to instill, you can forge an association. This “piggybacking” strategy allows for more effective habit forming that persists past the three-week mark.
Expect to fail, but not completely. Resolution setters that miss a day often abandon their attempts entirely. The secret to successful goal maintenance is to not surrender after a small set back.
Making a promise to inevitably be broken sets yourself up for failure, and yet the tradition persists. It represents a tenacious hope for the future as much as it does an evaluation of your past missteps. In some ways, ruptured New Year’s resolutions are a display of attempted, if aborted, self-improvement.
So maybe you won’t lose that holiday weight or have time to pick up that new hobby. At least you’re trying to improve. If you’re persistent, maybe you’ll be part of the successful 10 percent! (But probably not.)
It takes hard work to construct the proverbial “New Me,” and perhaps with some belief and persistence, you can beat the odds.