So, what happened to your new year resolutions?

We are at the end of January 2018 and if the title of this article puts a sheepish smile on our face, there is some respite in the fact that most of us end up here. 🙂 Here is some insight from psychological research –

According to more than 80 years’ worth of research on the psychology of goal pursuit, people who talk a lot about how they’re going to achieve some goal end up being less likely to put actual work into achieving that goal.

New Year Resolution PC: Angus & Phil
New Year Resolution PC: Angus & Phil

Social psychologist Melanie Tannenbaum has written an article about it in Scientific American titled: Should you tell Facebook about your resolutions?I am sure many of us have seen tons of posts about new year resolutions and plans in the first week of this year. After all, it feels great to join the wave of announcements and declare your intentions for better self, and all those likes, love’s wow’s and comments give us the high that is so typical of these social media. Though, I am not sure how many of us actually follow through and stick to their resolutions. In fact, it is not just about the new year resolutions, it even applies to the goals that you have in mind for yourself.

This is what Dr. Marwa Azab, professor of psychology at California State University says in her article Why You Should Not Share Your New Year’s Resolutions while explaining why public declaration often affects achieving the goal.

People tend to make their goals public, but research has shown that publicizing intentions might jeopardize chances to achieve our goals. This is not a new idea, Arabs for centuries have admonished against publicizing commendable goals, culminating in proverbs such as “the more you surround your candle, the more it remains lit”.
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When we publicize our goal intentions, and others acknowledge the awesomeness of such “potential” changes, we get our dopamine reward all at once. The more others admire our goals, the more dopamine rush we get, and the less likely we are to execute the future necessary actions to implement them.

If you are more curious about related research, you can read this research paper by Peter Gollwitzer: When Intentions Go Public in which he found that when we publicize our goals, especially the ones that have to do with our identity, our goal-related performance is compromised.

So, does that mean we should not talk about our goals at all? Certainly not – the research has shown that sharing or announcing ‘implementation intentions’ instead of ‘goal intentions’ helps in actually achieving the goals. Implementation intentions are specific plans about the behaviour that we want to develop. The implementation intentions should also include some plan-b in terms of if-then when original plan does not work. For example, instead of announcing ambitious ‘X’ number of books that I plan to read this year, I can instead commit to the process – such as reading for 1 hour before going to bed on all days or on specific days of the week . This in fact goes a step further and talks about committing to the process rather than outcome.

This short TED talk (approximately 3 minutes) by entrepreneur Derek Sivers discusses benefits of keeping your goals to yourself, followed by some excerpts from the same. Can you spot his ‘implementation intentions’ here?

Well, you could resist the temptation to announce your goal. You can delay the gratification that the social acknowledgment brings, and you can understand that your mind mistakes the talking for the doing. But if you do need to talk about something, you can state it in a way that gives you no satisfaction, such as, “I really want to run this marathon, so I need to train five times a week and kick my ass if I don’t, okay?”

~ Derek Sivers


About the featured image:

The featured image for this article is taken from the Internet, and there are numerous blogs, websites, newspapers using it and I don’t know whom to credit it to. So let me just say that I am using it here with gratitude and this is not an image created by me.