Great article on WSJ.com about “Steps to New Year’s Resolution Success” looking at the magic sauce for actually keeping your resolutions. Hint: It requires more than willpower.
As the peak season for making New Year’s resolutions draws near, most people, behavioural experts say, approach the process exactly wrong: They rely on willpower. Willpower springs from a part of the brain, in the prefrontal cortex, that is easily overloaded and exhausted. What works far better, researchers say, is training other parts of the brain responsible for linking positive emotions to new habits and conditioning yourself to new behaviours. When setting a resolution, simply deciding to change your behaviour may work for a while. But when the cognitive parts of the brain responsible for decision-making become stressed by other life events, that resolve is likely to succumb to an emotional desire for instant gratification, says Baba Shiv, a Stanford University marketing professor who specialises in neuroeconomics, the study of the biological bases for making economic decisions. Keeping a resolution requires a detailed plan, with emotional rewards when milestones are reached—and even a strategy when there’s a setback. And don’t wait for Jan. 1, experts say: Start planning now to increase your chances for success.