Taken For Granted: The thing about resolutions

One week into the New Year, that’s seven days, or approximately 168 hours since the crystal ball dropped at Times Square, and I’ll bet those lofty New Year’s resolutions you so foolishly made already are under siege. But not me.

I resolved this year not to make any resolutions. I’ve sailed through the first week of the year oblivious to the temptation to correct any faults or set any goals.

Before deciding not to resolve anything in 2012, I did some research. There are hundreds of websites that expound on how to make and keep New Year’s resolutions. Many proclaim that profound life changes are possible simply by deciding what you want to change, and then writing it down.

Most so-called authorities distinguish changing existent habits from initiating new behaviors. Other sites set out to convince you that all it takes to improve your health, your fortune, your relationships and, ultimately, lasting happiness is to internalize the goal like an athlete “imaging” his or her success on the ball field.

After plowing through the motivational sites, I came upon a couple of studies that gave me pause.

A study conducted by British psychologist Richard Wiseman concluded that only 50% of people make resolutions, and of those, 88% fail to keep them.

We have all been schooled to believe that self control is character-based, when in fact it may be a physiological issue.

Neuroscientists have determined that the prefrontal cortex is the source of willpower in human beings. Over time, this area of the brain has increased in size as man has evolved, but is still not very effective in eliminating bad habits.

Willpower, or self control, is only one of the many functions this part of the brain performs, including short-term memory and solving abstract problems. Scientists have found that willpower often suffers when these other functions overtax the prefrontal cortex.

A study conducted by Stanford’s Baba Shiv identifies “cognitive overload” due to stress, overwork, fatigue or preoccupation with job or personal problems as draining the quantity of willpower available to an individual at any given time.

Losing weight is far and away the most common resolution.

Americans spend $62 billion a year on everything from health clubs and weight-reduction programs to diet sodas, according to projections by Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm.

Under the influence of truth serum, a marketing manager for one of these companies might come clean and tell you what their advertising and sales pitch never will — that these companies thrive on the recidivism of those seeking to lose weight. They are comfortable in the knowledge that you will be back again next January, frustrated but intent on buying their products and giving it another try.

To prevent the shredding of your list, let me provide some suggestions for those exceptional individuals with a strong prefrontal muscle.

First, do not attempt to change too many “bad” habits. If weight loss is the goal, don’t try to stop smoking at the same time.

Second, write it down and publicize it to friends. Put your resolutions on Facebook if you dare; you’ll need the support and you will be motivated by the fear of laughter and the “I told you so’s” if you fall off the wagon.

Third, studies show that women are more effective sticking to a resolution if they spread the word and solicit the support of other women. Men, on the other hand, display more self control if they take a goal-oriented approach that attempts to achieve the desired goal in increments, e.g. three pounds a month.

Good luck and Happy New Year!

PAT GRANT has lived in Glendale for more than 30 years and was formerly a marketing manager for an insurance company. He may be reached at tfgranted@gmail.com.

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