“Do or do not… there is no try.”


Are you going to make a New Years resolution in 2016?

If you are like most people you will–and probably will relapse back to your old habits within 90 days.

Old habits are indeed very tough to break and relapse seems greatest when we are under stress.

Starting new behaviors is indeed challenging but it is even more difficult to sustain them over time.

Quitting is indeed something that some of us are pretty consistent in doing well.

Relapse by the Numbers

Nearly four out of 10 adults will make one or more resolutions for the new year, according to a study done by the University of Scranton ((Norcross, J., Mrykalo, S., & Blagys, M. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and non-resolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 397-405)).

  • After the first week of carrying out the goal, about 75 percent of people maintain their goal.
  • After week two, nearly 70 percent of people will maintain their goal.
  • After one month, about 64 percent will stick with their resolution.
  • After six months, about 46 percent of people are still on track with their goal

If You Slip–Don’t Worry, Be Happy

According to health habit research, quitting may actually be better for your health. Psychologist’s Gregory Miller and Carsten Wroshch have found that people who are able to feel comfortable quitting when faced with unattainable goals may actually have better mental and physical health than those who persevere and push themselves to succeed ((Miller, G. & Wrosch, C. (2007). You’ve Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em: Goal Disengagement and Systemic Inflammation in Adolescence. Psychological Science, 18)).

This study was based on their previous research which found that those persistent individuals experienced higher levels of an inflammatory protein called C-reactive protein (an indicator of stress) as well as increased cortisol. They also reported lower psychological well-being. On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal but inflammation appears to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other stress related conditions.

Contrary to what we might have been taught, it appears that it might be in our best interests to “cut our losses” in the face of unattainable goals and life challenges and actually disengage from the goal to ensure optimum well-being and potentially long-term health. This appears to be true whether we are in unsatisfying long-term relationships, working for leaders who are toxic or targeting a goal that is beyond our skill and ability “set points.”

Setting New Goals After Failure Might be Empowering

So, any good things for those who persist? In other research Carsten and colleagues found that in the face of life challenge and disengaging from unattainable goals, those who redefined and set new goals were more likely to be able to buffer the negative emotions associated with the initial failure. Maybe “rebound” relationships and new entrepreneurial goals might actually serve to help us find closure to the past and re-engage us for future journeys ((Wrosch, C., Miller, G. E., Scheier, M. F., & Brun de Pontet, S. (2007). Giving up on unattainable goals: Benefits for health? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 251-265)).

The Willpower Bank Account

Some people imagine that self-control or willpower is something you only use once in a while, such as when you are tempted to do something wrong. Not really. Research indicates that the average person spends three to four hours a day resisting temptations, desires and impulses.

As people deplete their willpower, they became much more likely to give in to desires they might have otherwise have resisted (e.g., wanting to sleep, to eat, have sex, play video games, spend money, and drink or smoke).

It appears that willpower is actually a very limited resource–It gets depleted as people perform various acts of self-control. We can build up willpower in two ways:

  1. Eat or drink foods that contain Glucose: Glucose is the chemical in the bloodstream that carries energy to the brain, muscles and other organs and systems. In simple terms, glucose is fuel for the brain. Acts of self-control reduce blood glucose levels. Low levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks and tests. Replenishing glucose, even just with a glass of lemonade, improves self-control performance.
  2. Practice Willpower: Like exercise, you can build “willpower stamina” by doing things that focus on self-control. Over time, that practice improves self-control.

Good luck on your New Year’s goals (or year’s goals)….As Thomas Crum said, “Change does not take time–it takes commitment“…..Be well…

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Wellness

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