October 02, 2014
   
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Resolution Rx
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Resolution Rx

 

Many people who made New Year's resolutions are likely struggling with them now. Some may have already given up. Others are just letting the whole thing slide. The fact is that the act of making a resolution is a necessary step on the road to change. And for many of us, it is an exhilarating moment. It's a way of telling yourself what's important to you and committing some mental energy to it. It's all those other, harder, steps afterward that can be tough.

It's Resolution Crunch Time, Call in the Experts

The urge to improve ourselves is noble and worthy of our effort and attention. We thought maybe you would like some expert help getting through the days and weeks and months ahead as you try to quit smoking, lose weight, be kinder, be more organized, be less time compulsive, make lists, reduce clutter, stop procrastinating.

The fact is that the act of making a resolution is a necessary step on the road to change. And for many of us, it is an exhilarating moment.

Social psychologist Roy Baumeister, Francis Eppes Professor at Florida State University has spent years studying how people regulate their emotions, resist temptation, break bad habits, and perform up to their potential -- and why they often fail to do so. His new book, Willpower, Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, written with co-author and New York Times science writer John Tierney, offers a clear picture of just why willpower is so tricky and so often misunderstood.

Luckily, Willpower also describes strategies that you can use to improve your ability to achieve your goals. We asked him for some advice on coping with the inevitable challenges to the resolutions many of us made so hopefully a month or so ago.

Leslie Carr: Your book is based on your own research and others' that has found we each have a finite reserve of willpower, though this capability can be developed. What does the research have to say that might help people trying to turn over a new leaf in the New Year?

Roy Baumeister: Quite a bit. Most New Year’s resolutions are about making positive changes to oneself. That’s also what self-control is for. Thus, New Year’s resolutions are essentially applications of self-control.

The Problem with Resolutions

Why do we often have trouble with our New Year's resolutions? If a person is having trouble keeping a resolution, what are their alternatives, other than scrapping it?

RB: Each person’s supply of willpower is limited. And, as the “power” aspect of willpower implies, it’s a form of energy. It gets depleted when you use it.

So keeping New Year’s resolutions depends on the basic energy supply that the person needs for all other acts of self-control, as well as other things like decision making. A day in which you have had to make a number of tough decisions is likely to be a day you'll be sorely tempted not to follow through on your resolutions.

One common problem is that people make multiple resolutions. These are all effectively commitments to use one’s willpower. Unfortunately just making the resolution doesn’t increase your supply. When you have several resolutions, each time you try to keep any of them, you use up some of the precious willpower that is needed to keep the others. In other words, multiple resolutions all work against each other and undermine each other’s chances of success.

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