Is Your New Year's Resolutions Really Dumb?

January 1st 2016

Corrie Shenigo

New Year, new you?

Not so fast. Whether you spent the last month meticulously detailing your plan to lose 30 pounds, or you’re drunkenly resolving to stop drinking at the stroke of midnight Dec. 31, 2015, your New Year’s resolution is likely to fail.

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Only 8% of people who make resolutions stick to them, with most abandoning the proverbial ship after one or two weeks. Resolutions are dumb. Here’s why.

1. You’re probably not returning borrowed farm equipment.

The history of making New Year’s resolutions dates back to ancient Babylon, where people would make a promise to the gods to do something concrete and easily achievable, for example vowing to return a borrowed object or pay a debt. Removing the threat of divine repercussion and creating more difficult and personal resolutions (lose weight, stop smoking, etc.) significantly reduces the odds of success.

2. New Year’s resolutions are steeped in negativity.

We all know the importance of maintaining a positive attitude.

So why embark on the New Year focusing on the things you dislike about yourself? The things you desire to change about yourself likely elicit negative emotions, and while some people are motivated by that, most are not.

3. There's such a thing as "false hope syndrome."

According to something called the “false hope syndrome,” people often make resolutions that are overly ambitious and unrealistic in regards to their internal view of themselves. While making positive affirmations about yourself isn’t in itself a bad thing, making positive affirmations about yourself that you don’t really believe is a great way to set yourself up for failure and make yourself feel bad. You didn’t create any bad habit overnight, so it’s unrealistic to expect that you can overcome it during a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.”

4. Get real about unicorns and rainbows.

Many who attempt New Year’s resolutions have the added expectation that their lives will change if they achieving a desired outcome. When those changes fail to materialize — they don’t meet their soul mate, get that promotion, or achieve internet celebrity status — they’re liable to slip back into their old patterns.

5. Making any change in behavior requires changing your thinking too.

Brain scientists have discovered that habitual behavior is created through thinking patterns that have created neural pathways and memories. Those behaviors become your go-to when you’re faced with a making a choice, so the act of trying not to do something only strengthens your desire to do it. Creating new neural pathways (and habits) comes from new thinking, not from fighting through old thoughts.

6. New you vs. old you are two different things.

Reinventing oneself is a delicate business and tying any major change to a specific date removes the opportunity to fail and recover, both key elements of lasting change. Change is a process, not a light switch, and constantly comparing who you are now vs. who you want to be, only serves to demoralize and discourage.

7. Be clear about self-help.

For some the act of making a New Year’s resolution provides just enough affirming feelings to lull someone into inaction. Steve Salerno, author of "Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless," uses the example of people who sign up for an endless array of self-help programs expecting a magic word or promise to change their lives. “My concern is that the resolution takes the place of the action,” he says. “We all know that the real transformational work is tough, grueling, and usually involves sacrifice and unpleasant choices.”

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