Reasons why New Year’s resolutions (or any new habits) fail
Are you sick of making and breaking the same old new year’s resolutions (or any new habit) year after year?
If you finally want to make that change, or kick that habit that makes you feel bad – read on for my top four neuroscience-backed reasons as to why you are finding this all so difficult.
My follow-on blog and video detailing how to implement this information will be released in two week’s time, so sign up to receive that, or if you’re reading/watching this in the future, it will appear immediately after this.
Reason 1 – forming any new habit takes a lot of energy and headspace
When you are creating or breaking any new habit you are creating a brand new neural pathway in your brain. I see it like a woodland pathway – in order for that pathway to become a well trodden route through the woods, we need to walk down it again and again. Like that, when we are creating any new habit (for example getting up early to run in the morning), we are not only creating a brand new pathway, but we are also having to resist the urge to go down the already well-trodden, easier pathway (ie. Staying in our nice warm bed as we have done for years). This all takes a lot of brain energy and effort!
- It’s in the Pre Frontal Cortex (the red part of the picture) that this all happens. This is the part of the brain that is concerned with conscious thought, strategizing, goal setting and motivation. But when we are tired or stressed or just have too much on, there is not enough energy left over for creating any new habits.
- This is when we revert to the older ‘mammal’ part of the brain (aka limbic system) – which can run on automatic – using much less energy – and again, in this state, we have absolutely no chance of making the best decisions or create new habits
**Change requires a lot of energy, attention and consistency, so when we don’t create that, we have no hope of creating, let alone sustaining any new year’s resolutions or habits
Reason 2 – You have to be very clear on the benefits of the new habit and drawbacks of not doing it
- As human beings we naturally avoid situations where we experience pain, and seek out the ones where we experience pleasure – this is just an old survival mechanism of the brain which is, at it’s most basic functioning level, designed to keep you safe and alive.
- So if you really want to get your brain to make all of that extra effort to create an entirely new neural pathway, then you really need to focus on the benefits, the good, the pleasures you will gain from, say that early morning run. You will also need to avoid focusing on the bad, the pain, the difficulties of doing it.
Reason 3 Any new habit needs to feel as easy and familiar as possible
- Most of my clients, when they’re ready to commit to their new behaviour or habit – go all out, saying something like “right I will go to the gym five days a week for an hour – at 6 am every morning”. Every single time I have to reel them back in (often with a lot of resistance) to something smaller, more manageable. The reason is this – any ‘novelty’ or change activates the fight/flight/freeze part of the brain – the Amygdala.
Remember that survival instinct of the brain?
When we do anything that is too new or too ‘scary’, the Amygdala is activated – pushing us back to our old ‘safe’, known way of operating. It literally deactivates large chunks of the PFC – so we can’t actually evaluate the situation rationally – or in that moment make the best decisions for our lives.
All the Amygdala is concerned with is keeping us alive. It doesn’t care about our dreams, plans, hopes, values and purpose (let alone the fact we want to lose some weight or change a bad habit).
Reason 4 – It takes time!
- Depending on what else your brain is dealing with, and level of difficulty or complexity of your new resolution or habit, you will need to allow plenty of time for it to ‘embed’ or become your ‘new normal’
- Creating any new habit takes time for those neural pathways to become solid (remember that woodland pathway) and to replace the old behaviour or habit you currently have.
- There are many theories about how much time this all takes, but it really does depend on the habit itself, how much else you are managing in that brain of yours, and how easy or difficult this new habit is. My very rough estimation, for any new behaviour, is to allow at least three months of consistent effort.
- And remember, during that time you will need to keep your stress levels down, stay focused on the benefits, and have it be as easy and familiar as possible.
If you’ve found this information useful and want to put it into action, sign up for my next blog & video How to set and Keep New Year’s Resolutions (or any new habits) coming up in two weeks’ time. Or if you’re reading this in the future it will appear after this on my site.
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