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Why it’s so difficult to stick with New Year’s resolutions

Every year around this time, social media brims with people declaring their bold New Year’s resolutions — to hit the gym, to save more money, to learn to play the piano.

But often, after the initial excitement of the new year wanes, so does our commitment to the resolutions we made just weeks earlier.

Why is it so difficult to stick to resolutions year after year? Should we make smaller, more attainable goals instead? And how does motivation play into all of it?

To learn more about the psychology behind New Year’s resolutions, Metro Minute spoke to Dr. Edward Silberman, a psychiatrist at Tufts Medical Center.

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Are making New Year’s resolutions actually effective?

If you have to make a New Year’s resolution, it’s already a bad sign because it probably means that you’re struggling with yourself about something that you think you should do, but something you aren’t really thoroughly motivated to do.

It’s usually something where in the long run it would be beneficial, but in the short run there is either a certain amount of loss involved or a certain amount of pain or discomfort.

Why is it so difficult to stick to New Year’s resolutions and to ditch bad habits?

Because people do not give up anything without getting something back. The something may be purely psychological or emotional, but you have to feel like you really are getting something. Trying to force yourself to do something that you’re not yet prepared to do is setting yourself up for failure.

What are the best methods to set more realistic goals for the new year?

The issue of motivation is an extremely difficult one, and if I had a great answer to that I’d probably be running the world. It’s very difficult to know what would motivate someone deeply. And if you’re thinking in an abstract way that you should give up a habit because it’s bad, it’s not likely to work. What needs to happen is for you to get a real gut sense that these things are bad for you and hurting you. How people come to that is extremely various and mysterious. It’s hard to predict what’s going to make that kind of impact to result in a long-term change in behavior.

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Any tips on how to break out of those bad habits, especially if you don’t experience that pinnacle moment of wanting to stop?

I think that the best thing for people to do is to try to ask themselves not just how to change something they think they ought to change, but what they’re going to lose by making the change. Everybody knows what you’re going to gain. You need to ask yourself, what am I going to lose? Am I willing to go through the pain and effort to do such a thing? And you need to really look at the situation in an accepting way.


Maysoon Khan can be reached at maysoon.khan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @maysoonkhann