The Psychology Behind Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

The beginning of this month marked a new year and, therefore, a fresh start at keeping the promises we make to ourselves. We gave you some tips on keeping your New Year’s resolution of EPPP test prep success in Keeping Your New Year’s Resolution: Getting off to a good start in EPPP test prep in 2016. To follow up, I want to point you to some of the psychology behind why New Year’s resolutions are known for failure and how to combat that failure.

If you’re like most people, you will experience many temptations that draw you away from keeping your resolutions. When we give in to the temptation of a more comforting and immediately rewarding result, our brains release dopamine. Because dopamine is a factor in strengthening our frequented neural pathways, those pathways become increasingly automatic as we choose immediate reward more often. Therefore when we have a goal where gratification is distant, such as passing the EPPP, it is harder to choose discipline and work towards that distant goal because an immediate result is much more appealing.

The appeal of immediate results can be hard to resist due to our limited supply of willpower. Studies have shown that people can exercise only so much of it. In research scenarios, people who had already resisted the urge to give in to something, such as eating a cookie, were more likely to give in to something else later.

When it comes to your New Year’s resolution of EPPP test prep success, the reward of a passing score might seem distant, especially when it takes willpower to refuse the numerous distractions at our fingertips that pull us away from working towards this goal. Succumbing to distraction, whether the pull of social media or hours wasted on your smartphone, can feel like a nice break from studying but can negatively affect your study habits. The more you allow yourself to become sidetracked, the more habitual it becomes for you. You may eventually find yourself picking up your smart phone without even thinking about it.

The good news is that you can train your brain to develop a more positive habit that will allow you to successfully work towards your goal. By ridding yourself of distraction and creating a regular study schedule, eventually it won’t take up your limited amount of willpower to resist distraction and continue studying. When behaviors such as good study habits become habitualized, then they can become automatic without us having to draw on our limited reserves of will-power.

Big Think author Simon Oxenham prefaces an article with Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment which demonstrates the phenomenon of struggling against willpower. In the experiment, preschool-aged children were given one marshmallow with the option to eat it right away or to wait and receive two later. Oxenham uses the study to explain why keeping a New Year’s resolution is notoriously difficult.

In reality, we often don’t behave all too differently from the impatient child sitting in front of the marshmallow. So what can psychology do to help? The reason New Year’s resolutions appear so much easier at the time we conceive of them than we find them in practice is due to a psychological phenomenon known as present-bias.

The following link will take you to the article:

Lessons from Psychology in How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

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