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The Science Behind the Success of New Year’s Resolutions

Making a New Year’s resolution, having new goals and wanting to start fresh again is always inspiring. Keeping that flame of inspiration alive is another thing. More than 50 percent of us have the same idea every year. What’s not so encouraging is that 88 percent fail at their newly set resolutions.

The top three resolutions are weight loss, getting organized and spending less money. That got me thinking: What is the science behind making our resolutions last?

Well, no surprise here, it starts with the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex (right behind your forehead). This is the area that operates our will power, helps us stay focused, helps with short-term memory and solves abstract ideas. Believe it or not, it is like a muscle and as with any muscle, it needs to be trained.

Having an abstract goal that isn’t tied to a particular behavior will be impossible for your brain to focus on. That’s why 90 percent of all New Year’s resolutions fail. Without this crucial component, it will most likely be impossible for your brain to focus. A New Year’s resolution, or any major new undertaking, takes an enormous amount of will power, sometimes too much for your brain to handle. By overloading the prefrontal cortex without training it first can lead to failure. It is like going to the gym for the first time and expecting to lift 100 pounds. Your brain can’t do all this heavy lifting.

To start getting that brain into shape, the first thing to do is to set yourself up for success: make your goal attainable. Then make it a habit until it feels instinctual, i.e., you don’t need to fight with yourself when it’s time for that walk. You just do it.

Start Small—For example, if your resolution is to lose weight, start the habit of walking a few days a week after dinner, just for, say, 15 minutes. Want to eat healthier? Substitute a piece of fruit for that muffin. Stress? Try to meditate each day for three minutes. Want to stop smoking? Start with cutting out that one extra cigarette with your morning coffee.

By making your new resolution a tiny habit at first by breaking it down to its simplest form, your chances of success will be 50 percent higher. Try these tips to start exercising that pre-frontal cortex. As your goal becomes part of your routine, you may find those new habits evolve to a longer walk, eating better or fewer cigarettes and the resolutions eventually stick all by themselves.

Pick one resolution—Don’t overload that frontal cortex. Choose what’s most important for you and let go of the rest. Overload can lead to that 88 percent failure rate.

Write it down and spread the word—Writing it down and telling people about your new habit will help you commit and get the support that you may need. This is a simple step that will make you more likely to achieve those goals and increase your overall happiness in doing so.

Rewards and positive feedback—Rewarding yourself (once in a while) for your accomplishments is a sure way to success. Have that massage, a cookie, or a few hours off and celebrate your achievements. Joining a group and receiving positive feedback and support is a proven way to help you make changes. By strengthening that pre-frontal cortex you won’t set yourself up for cognitive overload by taking on too much. Create the new small habit that is the most important to you and you will be on your way to a successful resolution that you can stick to…or better yet, will stick with you. Have a happy and healthy holiday, Lisa.

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"If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.”
― Deepak Chopra

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"The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather cure and prevent disease with nutrition"
Thomas Edison