Why has it  become culturally standard practice to make New Years Resolutions? And why is it equally as accepted that most of them do not stick?  At first it seems reasonable enough to use the New Year as a kind of scheduled do-over opportunity. I mean, sure, its kind of arbitrary, but in that sense it is as good a time as any. And that part is true. Really ANY time is as good as any to begin to make a change. The problem lies in our continued acceptance of predictable failure. We poke fun at ourselves and others for their failures in resolve. But the parts of the brain that are behind habits as opposed to resolutions actually goes a long way to explaining this pattern.

The primitive part of our brain called the basal ganglia is the home of habits. It is programmed with responses and behaviors that we have keyed in long ago and which we follow without question. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is responsible for creating new ideas, imagining outcomes and weighing risks and benefits, among many other things. What sinks our proverbial New years Resolution Ship is the basal ganglia. We revert to old habits way too easily, and our prefrontal cortex just does not act as a switch to turn off the pattern. So its not that we lack resolve, its that we lack an understanding of how habit actually works.

Most advice articles about New Years Resolutions have some worthwhile advice in them, such as 1) do not make too many 2) do not tell others about your resolutions (lest it fill you with a  false and premature sense of accomplishment) and 3) if you fail, try again. However, you owe it to yourself to watch the attached 3 minute youtube clip of Author Charles Duhigg explaining the components of habit and how to reprogram them. I have not yet seen such a concise and practical outline of how to change a behavior. Please feel free to share your responses and success stories!

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