New Year’s Resolutions – make it work this year

A few days ago I read an interesting article in the WSJ. It dealt with New Year’s resolutions, why we are so fond of them, and why they are so often doomed to fail. And as I learned, they are often doomed to failure from the very beginning.

Apparently, the failure is a result of two main factors. Unrealistic expectations, and too little planning.

Ah! Lightbulb moment for me.

In my case it wasn’t so much of unrealistic expectations, as an absence of planning.

I haven’t made any NYRs for years because I knew they didn’t work. But according to NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer planning is crucial for meeting goals.

One of the common mistakes are unrealistic expecations. In a study by Dr. Polivy and colleagues chronic dieters were put on a moderate diet for two weeks. While the dieters lost about 1 pound on average, none of the dieters maintained the diet after two weeks was up because they didn’t meet their unrealistic expectations of losing 5 to 10 pounds.  When you consider the long term effects of this diet, these dieters would have lost between 30 and 40 pounds during the course of a year. Pretty good, I think. But they “all gave up because they felt the diet wasn’t working. They hadn’t lost 5 or 10 pounds like they thought they should have,” says Dr. Polivy.(Shirley S. Wang for WSJ)

Researchers have found that our brains automatically overestimate the chances of a positive future with what is known as an ‘optimistic bias’. Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist at University College London, has studies how our brains perpetuate this bias. One factor appears to be that we selectively incorporate positive feedback into our future expectations, but ignore negative feedback. (Shirley S. Wang for WSJ) Interestingly though, in a test, a group of researchers found that those who were more optimistic than those who were considered more realistic, had a slightly higher success rate. And I must attest to that. Friends of ours have a daughter who is an tremendously successful competitive swimmer. In a recent competition she won against girls 4-5 years older, and at least a foot taller than her. Here is the extraordinary thing. She is dangerously allergic to dairy, eggs, nuts, and a few other things. She also needs to stay away from too much soy. So all the foods performance athletes like her use to grow and maintain muscles tissue an stamina are foods she cannot eat. It never occurred to her that she wouldn’t be successful and simply went for it.

Maybe you are planning to get more organized,  another one high on the list. You go out and buy a hundred dollars worth of organizing tools. But unless you first diagnose your clutter style, and your storage style (and no I don’t mean zebra pattern, or leather), you will fail. Some people are folder people, some people are pilers. Just one style in one instance. Did you ever try this and give up because your house wasn’t sparkling and ready for a Better Homes and Gardens picture shoot in a month? Yup, unrealistic and very poor planning. Been there, done that.

In order to get the planning right, you first need to understand what exactly is making you tic, and what substitutions work for you. One of the things I’d like to do is reduce my refined sugar intake this year. I have to examine where I consume this sugar the most, and what substitutions I can accept. I will not, under any circumstances use artificial sweeteners. As to agave syrup or stevia, forget it. Those things have been so chemically processed, they are not making it into my home, natural name or not. My plan is to gradually, very slowly reduce the amount I use in my tea, in my coffee, and have naturally sweetened and naturally sweet treats at home for when I crave a treat. I live with my huz, two kids and an octogenarian in the house. So I can’t be unrealistic and expect them to follow my plan and toss out all products that contain refined sugar. That would lead to anarchy. Therefore the plan comes in two steps:

1. Diagnose my pitfalls and problem foods.
2. Find acceptable alternatives and gradually introduce them to myself.

Estimated time until I have achieved my goal? Approximately 6 months or more.

My other goal is to set up  a routine chore list for the kids as well as a routine monetary allowance and screen time allowance tied to it.

1. Step one, consider what they are able to do, how long the task would take etc.
2. Step two, make a list, print it, laminate it, and figure out where to hang it.
3. Step three, implement one new chore every one or two weeks.

I have a few more, but I will need to think them through first.

For the first time in years I actually have some New Year’s Resolutions. And for the first time in a long time, I actually think I can pull some of them off. And if I fail at some of them, I will not blame myself for the failure, but rather understand that I fell short in my expectations and/or planning.

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