Why resolutions are hard to stick to

Struggling with New Year’s resolutions?

New Year’s resolutions are always popular, but they don’t always stick. Are you already wobbling a bit with your 2022 “new year, new you” plans? Maybe you’re just sick of making and breaking the same old resolutions year in, year out.

If this is you, then I’ve got great news. I’m going to share my top four neuroscience-backed reasons as to why you’re finding this so difficult.

Reason 1

Creating any new habit takes a lot of energy and headspace. You are creating a brand new neural pathway in your brain. At the same time, you’re having to override one that is well-established. Imagine you’re going for a walk in the woods. It’s much easier to follow a well-travelled path than to branch out and create your own through the brush and brambles. So you need the energy and headroom to do this. If you are stressed, overwhelmed, not sleeping well, not eating well, or in any other state that is already leaching your available energy, then you have much less chance of successfully establishing this new habit.

Reason 2

Wanting to enjoy ourselves is a natural human inclincation. We have an aversion to anything that causes us pain—whether that’s physical, mental or emotional. We seek pleasure. It’s important, therefore, to focus on the positive aspects of your new routine. Any hint that it might be difficult, painful, or unpleasant and our survival instinct will encourage us to run away from it. If you view getting up and going for a run every morning as a joyful opportunity to enjoy some you-time, experience nature at its sunrise best, and feel fabulous about your body then it becomes a lot easier to stick with it than if you view it as a difficult and unpleasant chore that must be done even though it will result in aching muscles and fatigue.

Reason 3

A new habit needs to feel as familiar and comfortable as possible. Anything that takes you too far beyond your comfort zone will activate the amygdala—the part of the brain that triggers fight, flight, or freeze response. And that will catapult you straight back into familiar old habits—probably the very one you’re trying to change. Making changes in small increments that feel safe and easy is more likely to be successful. Build on what you’re already doing rather than instigate a complete, radical overhaul of your entire life.

Reason 4

It takes time. Creating a new neural pathway won’t happen overnight. You need to consciously repeat the new habit often enough for long enough to tread down all the weeds and undergrowth. At the same time, you need to avoid the old pathway, so that it can become overgrown. It won’t be instant, or even quick, but the new path will become established, and the old one will atrophy. How long it takes depends on what you’re trying to achieve and what else you have going on.

I hope these four reasons help you to understand more about the challenge you have given yourself when you make a New year’s resolution. I’ll be following this up with another article to help you stick to your goals and create the positive new habit you want in your life.

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