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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%.

  • Nope.

  • 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!

Legend has it the month of January was named for the Roman god Janus.

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Why New Year's Resolutions Fail

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    Annie Chien posted on 2019/12/31
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