Successful New Year Resolutions and Change with the Right Psychology

Posted by: Dr. Justin D'Arienzo, Psy.D., ABPP

Getting the Right Psychology to Master New Year Resolutions and Behavior Change


#BarsAreEmptyGymsAreFull #NewYearResolution #TheRightPsychology #BeGreatNotAverage

Bars are Empty and Gyms are Full

Dr. D’Arienzo, Board Certified Psychologist here. Let’s talk Resolutions, how our psychology can fail us or how we can use it to our advantage. First and most importantly, you must understand that comfort is not the objective. If you can’t manage discomfort, then you won’t change. Speaking of discomfort, I love this time of year because the gym is all mine again. It won’t be crowded again until January 2, 2021. It’s the fourth week of January and look at my gym this afternoon.

Side note, I am a bartender that sees me professionally, and he told me that January is the absolute worst month for business because so many people quit drinking as a result of a new year resolution. He said he was not worried about it because they all return by February. I never considered this perspective.

It Is Challenging Being a Human

Humans fascinate me. We are always seeking improvement yet are so challenged to reach it. Only 10% are successful in creating new habits from a New Year Resolution, and it’s no wonder that nearly 70% of resolutions are related to diet and exercise after the holiday binge, as we know that engaging in healthy behavior gives us the best chance to extend our lives. But being rational and consistent are not always the human traits we employ. Overeating and couch surfing eventually win over good sense for most of us.

Psychology for Failed Resolutions

Resolutions fail for four reasons. Despite conventional wisdom, we handicap ourselves by setting a change date. A change date is just an excuse to put off making necessary changes right now. How in the world is going to the gym and starving yourself on January 1, going to be a great experience after binging and sitting around for two weeks? It’s not, and you are going to feel deprived and terrible. This brings me to the second and third causes of failure. Humans move toward pleasure and want immediate results, yet sedentary bodies don’t move easily and body compositions don’t change quickly without consistent and persistent effort over the long haul….This sounds like so much work…Compounding this need for pleasure is the fourth factor which also counters our movement toward change. This factor relates to our human need to be in control of ourselves or to have autonomy. Most often we attempt to engage in these new healthy behaviors after work during the little leisure time that we have. And because we sense that we have to do it, we fight back to maintain autonomy. It sounds crazy, but we don’t like doing things that we feel like we have to do, even if we are the ones telling ourselves to do it.

Psychology for Successful Resolutions

The solution to the resolution problem. Extrapolate what I am going to tell you to any resolution or new healthy habit. I’m going to talk about physical health and exercise because those are the big ones for most people. If you hope to change your diet or begin exercising, don’t set a change date. Make the change right now whether it be the middle of December or the middle of March. Second, find a version of the activity that you enjoy. If you want to exercise and you like tennis, then play tennis rather than running five miles a day. Third, change incrementally. In the first couple of weeks, start small and exercise a few times each week. Once you accomplish this, you will feel more in control. Then increase your exercise a little more each week. As you are successful in your incremental gains, you will feel more in control and find the positive changes pleasurable. Also, create a little discomfort in the event you resist the change. Set up your expectation for this new habit in a positive way by putting together a cool workout outfit, and lay it out in the morning, so it is waiting to be worn in the afternoon after work. If you are consistent, the positive gains will follow and keep you on track.

Expect Discomfort and Record Progress

Other methods that facilitate change are publicly proclaiming your resolution, committing to it like your life depends upon it, picking one that you are doing for you and not to please someone else, choosing one thing to change at a time, believing that self-control can be improved, preparing for discomfort and to use the necessary coping skills to manage it, and the more you are monitoring your behavior and the results by recording it and looking at it, the more likely you will make the new changes. Finally, and most importantly, and again, expect discomfort. If you feel comfortable, then you didn’t need to change it. If you need a little more motivation, check out this great marketing video by GNC. Do you want to be average or do you want to be great?

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