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Legend has it the month of January was named for the Roman god Janus.
He had two faces, one looking to the future and the other looking to the past.
And so, we see the end of the year as a time of reflection, the beginning of the next, an opportunity to turn over a new leaf.
But most of us are doing it wrong.
The New Year's Resolution has long been seen as a chance to set goals and change our behavior.
Last year, 45% of Americans said they usually make a resolution.
And that they're mostly about losing weight, doing regular exercise, or saving money.
But only 8% of those people actually achieved their resolution.
I've never been part of that 8%.
American psychologist, Amy Cuddy, writes that New Year's Resolutions are "riddled with psychological traps that work against us."
Here's why.
First of all, most resolutions are too ambitious.
Say you resolve to "go to the gym 3 times a week".
It sounds okay, I mean I could easily sit and watch Netflix three times a week, so why not make that gym time?
But it's totally different and more of a commitment than you may realize, especially if it's a new behavior.
We often fall victim to the planning fallacy, where we underestimate the time it takes to complete a task.
Sooner or later, but probably sooner, you'll miss a gym visit and then you've failed.
Repeated failure makes us lose confidence, and it becomes more likely that we'll stop.
Typical New Year's Resolutions are too results orientated.
They focus on a lofty ambition, like "quit smoking", without considering the process, the steps we need to take to get there.
They're also too long term, which makes goals difficult to imagine and relate to.
Sometimes, it's hard to imagine what life will be like in one year's time.
We'll have finished a whole new season of "Game of Thrones" by then.
And often, resolutions are too negatively focused.
We want to get rid of things, bad habits or weight, rather than build upon things that we're good at.
And this is why New Year's Resolutions can be bad for us.
Setting goals like this can lead to learned helplessness where we give up what we're capable of doing after we repeatedly fail.
So... should we still make New Year's Resolutions?
Sure, just do it smartly.
Back in the 1920s, Bluma Zeigarnik found that people have a better memory for tasks they haven't yet completed.
It's now called the Zeigarnik effect.
So, make your resolution a series of short-term tasks with a positive focus that you can keep tweaking towards your larger goal.
Start a to-do list, figure out your approach, and it's much more likely you'll feel a niggling urge to complete the little things.
And once you do, Richard Wiseman writes that planning a reward gives you a sense of achievement and keeps you on track.
This way, you can look back and feel accomplished about everything you've done.
And you can look forward towards your goal all until next January rolls around.
See you next week!
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Why New Year's Resolutions Fail

4624 Folder Collection
Annie Chien published on December 2, 2019    Annie Chien translated    Evangeline reviewed
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