Only about 8 percent of Americans achieve their New Year’s resolutions every year — about the same success rate as getting your toddler to voluntarily put pants on. Resolutions are made to be broken, but if you insist on making one, you might want to keep the Ironic Process Theory in your back pocket. Sound like a bad indie band? Well their hit song is an excuse for your potential failures. How rock ‘n’ roll.
Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner and his colleagues discovered that suppressing certain thoughts can actually increase them back in 1987. The famous experiment asked participants to not think about a white bear, and then talk about anything for 5 minutes. Guess what they talked about? That’s right, they couldn’t go more than a minute without bringing it up. So definitely make sure your resolution has nothing to do with bears. That includes “da bears.”
Plenty of studies have since supported (and expanded) these findings. The most recent research, published in the journal Brain Research, found that thoughts increased during this kind of suppression, as well as during the rebound period when suppression ceased. Not only that, but scalp recordings revealed that your brain’s electrical activity changes on a fundamental level when you resolve not to do something. Essentially this means that if you end up breaking your New Year’s resolution to give up, say, smoked meats, you’re probably going to eat more than if you just tried moderation.
So how do you make a plan you can stick to? Keep it simple, use the buddy system, and don’t plan on doing it for a full year (only about 46 percent of resolutions make it past 6 months) are all helpful hacks for setting attainable goals. Also, introducing good habits may be more practical than eliminating bad ones completely, such as resolving to sleep more. That would be a good resolution for the year your kids move out.
[H/T] Psychology Today