The psychology of unfulfilled resolutions

Don’t get carried away with ‘false hope’

It’s Day 20 of the new year… have you kept your resolutions?  

Did they work? Did the turning of the calendar year make any change at all? Here’s the scoop.

Fewer than 10 per cent of people keep their resolutions long-term, according to a Statistics Brain Research Institute survey conducted this year. 


But the answer to why it’s so hard to keep your resolution might not be because of you, but because of the goal you’re setting.  

The reason so many people fail to succeed at their New Year’s resolutions some scientists call “false hope syndrome,” referring to the cycle of failure and renewed effort at self-change we so often experience each January. 

“False hope syndrome” occurs because resolutions are often unrealistic goals, based on impracticable expectations of their ease and the amount of time necessary to see results. 

For example, if you decide to workout from 5 to 7 a.m. every morning for the New Year, get above 95 per cent in all of your classes and have no student debt by April, the chances of sustaining those changes are slim — although kudos to the people who can sustain that.  

It’s not unachievable, but it’s the jump to the extreme changes if you weren’t doing any of these “resolutions” beforehand that makes them fail. It’s false hope. 

A more realistic goal could be someone who goes to the gym four times a week aiming to go five to six times in the New Year, and probably at the same time as before. Its just a step up from their current routine.  

So with all the negative stats, why make resolutions at all? 

Research shows that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to succeed at them than people who have vague intentions — especially if they focus on their behaviour cognitively, instead of emotionally reacting to their resolutions.  

Some ways to make effective resolutions are: 

1) Link it to a pre-existing habit. “I will drink a bottle of water before I leave for school instead of buying one on campus.” 

2) Modify something you already do or pick something easy that’s new. “Instead of starting a whole new workout routine, I’ll modify and expand my old one.”

3) Make it REALLY easy to do for the first week. Often, you need to do something for a week to get into the habit. For the first week, set a reminder on your phone every day to prompt yourself!

Challenge yourself this year to set a meaningful resolution. Whether it be healthy eating or just taking more time for you, breaking bad habits or creating new ones are things we should strive for all year. 

Make your New Year’s resolution something more personal that only you can achieve and you might find it a little easier to keep.

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