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Psych Your Mind: Learning to resolve

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | January 9th, 2012

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
As a personal fitness trainer and an accredited nutritional expert boasting 35 years of experience, a question my mom all too commonly encounters around this season is "Why do so many (an estimated 75 per cent, in fact!) New Year's resolutions fail?"

Beyond just setting unrealistic and/or vague goals, researchers Anirban Mukhopadhyay and Gita V. Johar point out that the very way in which many of us psychologically conceive of our self-promises may actually be setting us up to crash and burn. As their 2005 study entitled "Where There Is a Will, Is There a Way? Effects of Lay Theories of Self-Control on Setting and Keeping Resolutions" revealed, resolution setters are not able to effectively accomplish what they've set out to do if they "believe" (and that's the key word in this sentence) they lack inherent self-control. Moreover, the very phrasing of one's resolutions (e.g.: the utilization of absolute terms such as "never" or "always") may prove detrimental.

To this, psychologist Dr. Kit Yarrow adds that being dedicated to one's goals may not be enough to resist temptation or bar preestablished psychological cues.

Accordingly, she suggests that for maximum effectiveness, one needs to further change their routine as well as potentially the environment that is linked to the bad habits they're trying to break. For example, if you always gorge on Cheetos and cola while watching the telly in your living room, repositioning your furniture, changing the location where you spend your recreational time or adjusting the time period you commit to leisure within the same setting can rewire your brain circuitry, thereby aiding in fulfilling your goals of self-renewal.

By far the biggest contributor to resolution success or failure remains truly understanding what you're getting yourself into. James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente's Stages of Change model, first introduced in the late 1970s in a study that followed smokers who repeatedly tried to quit and repeatedly relapsed, reaffirms the necessity of introspection when grappling with goal setting. As they explain, a thorough investigation of the following three questions is a MUST before undergoing any action(s):

1. Do you have the resources and knowledge to successfully make a lasting change? (defined as the "Readiness to Change")

2. Is there anything preventing you from changing? (defined as the "Barriers to Change")

3. What might trigger a return to a former behaviour(s)? (defined as the "Expectations and Circumstances Associated with Relapse")

In other words, the devil's in the details. One must recognize that the motivation driving a resolution is an acknowledgement of something you are currently dissatisfied with in your life. In essence, you wish to allow a negative aspect of yourself to die in an effort to generate a more positive future: a new way of living. Once you've TRULY and FULLY acknowledged this, making lame excuses, such as you lack self-efficacy, is increasingly LESS convincing to yourself and others. Perhaps that in itself could be your resolution: to develop stronger willpower — I did provide you with tips on how to do so just a few issues ago... just saying. Don't "resolve" to fail.

It's commonly understood that it takes 28 days to break a bad habit and solidify a new one. For the nicotine inhalers out there, they say, on average, it takes eight (yes, you read correctly) attempts to finally kick cigs to the curb. So, even if you've had minimal success in the past, do yourself a favour and try, try again.

Remember that breaking down large goals into smaller, attainable milestones and providing yourself with access to moral support via your friends or the regular affirmation of your ability to start anew is ESSENTIAL. If you've spent this past year with me concluding that conducting an intensive introspection is much too daunting, perhaps working on a single New Year's resolution will prove a good place for you to start.
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