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New Year’s resolutions are usually a waste of time, but science has some tips to make them work

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New Year's resolutions are usually a waste of time, but science has some tips to make them work
New Year’s resolutions are usually a waste of time, but science has some tips to make them work

We are in the first week of the year, the week in which most of the goals, resolutions and resolutions of the new year come to die. Nine out of ten will end up doing it sooner or later, according to John C. Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton.

Exercise, quit smoking, spend more time with family or friends, read more novels, lose some weight, etc… With this kind of purpose something curious happens: science behavior accumulates so much evidence that they can be effective, as data that usually is not.

The science of behavioral change in three ideas

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The most holy trinity of the new habits are clarity, progressivity and the sense of strategy ; Faced with this, we usually make decisions like these based on impulsiveness and guilt. Things that can be a motivation for change ( Webb and Sheeran, 2006 ), but certainly not a methodology.

Behavioral change is one of the central themes of psychology. That is why, taking a look at the available evidence ( Bergin and Garfield, 1994 ), we can come up with some ideas that improve our fulfillment of New Year’s resolutions. But above all, we contain our optimism: change is difficult .

Be concrete

One of the most typical mistakes of New Year’s resolutions is to be nonspecific. For practical purposes, proposing to “get fit” is almost the same as “invading Russia, alone and with the only help of our own hands”. A chimera, something to repeat at this time (because it is “the time to do it”), but we will not comply ( Hayes, Strosahl and Wilson, 1999 ).

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One of the recurring recommendations when favoring the creation of habits, is that they are clear, concrete and specific. It is not “getting fit”, it is not “joining the gym”, it is “going to Zumba three times a week from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.” If we can engage with more people, in public, better ( Hayes et al., 1985 ). The clear and auditable tasks prevent us from cheating the solitary ( Strecher, 1986 ).

Be progressive

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The problem is that it is not enough that the objectives are clear, we must know how to design them properly (A braham and Michie, 2008 ). Running San Silvestre Vallecana is a clear, concrete and specific objective; one that requires preparation. And if we do not scale that preparation properly, we will not be very successful.

Here the key is to strive to create a “slippery slope” (Kirchler, Hoelzl and Wahl, 2008), design the steps in such a way that each one follows the previous one and if it can be added to already established habits, better than better.

Be strategic

There are things that, naturally, are more “reinforcing” than others ( Epstein, 1995 ). That is, there are certain things that by their nature make it more likely that we repeat again, that we increase that behavior. As a rule, the flavor of fried potatoes with bacon and hot cheddar sauce is more “reinforcing” than celery. It also happens with the activities that we want to start doing. This graph of the CNBC that we have seen thanks to Joan Tubau reflects it in a very visual way.

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Beyond the fact that around 80% of people leave the gym, the graph shows that there are activities such as Crossfit with a higher success rate than yoga. They are aggregate figures (and the activity depends a lot on personal characteristics), but it helps us visualize that if we choose “naturally reinforcing” activities we have much advanced ( Barton, 1980).

The fundamental key

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But surely the fundamental key is to accept ourselves as we are ( Noll and Fredrickson, 1998 ) and concentrate our efforts on the areas that really pose a problem for our health, hurt us or impede the life we ​​want ( Hayes, Strosahl and Wilson, 1999 ). With all this and work, who knows if our end-of-year purpose is that 1 in 10 that is still alive.

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