45% of Americans make New Year's resolutions. Most don't keep them. 45% of Americans make New Year's resolutions. Most don't keep them. 45% of Americans make New Year's resolutions. Most don't keep them. (Photo: Pixabay)

Why people break their New Year's resolutions (and how you can keep yours!)

Social scientist explains why it's not all about willpower.

After popping a bottle of champagne as December turns into January, you decide it's time to better yourself. This year, you're going to do something important. Something real. You're going on a new, healthy diet.

Sure, you made the same resolution the year before that. And the year before that. And the year before that. But it's different this time, because you really mean it! You vow to live off carrot sticks and hummus for the next few weeks, and you'll jog three hours a day.

Unfortunately, you're probably running into a common pitfall: shooting too high.

Meet Dan Ariely, known as the world's most irrational man. Ariely, an Israeli-American professor at Duke University, has become famous for explaining human decision-making. "People create unreasonable resolutions that they have no business making," he tells From The Grapevine.

Okay, so you'll start a bit smaller. Just give up the junk food and exercise a few times a week. You can do it, right? You just need to harness your willpower.

Not so much. Every year, people make commitments, believing their willpower will carry them through. But according to Ariely, willpower just isn't that great of a strategy for getting things done.

"Intentions are not enough," Ariely says. We overestimate our willpower, and we underestimate the power of our environment. According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 8% of people successfully keep their resolutions.

"We don’t understand the influence of the environment on our decisions," Ariely tells us. "Your phone vibrates, and you become a slightly different person. The moment you pass by a donut shop, you become a slightly different person. You are a person who is more interested in donuts."

If you are determined to go on a diet, but you keep chips on your shopping list, you continue making your daily trip to a coffeeshop known for its pumpkin spice lattes, and you keep the same number of soft drinks in the house, then you'll probably keep eating potato chips, sipping lattes and downing soft drinks.

"Life is tempting," Ariely explains. "Life is getting better at tempting us all the time." Donuts are tasting better, Facebook is getting less buggy, TV is getting more interesting. Companies have a pretty big stake in making products more appealing. So it's not enough to want to stop eating cookies; you have to get cookies out of your environment.

If you want to make a change, explains Ariely, then you have to change your surroundings. You have to rewrite your shopping list, move the soft drinks to the back of the cupboard and schedule a new exercise regimen with your friends, for example.

"What’s important is making our environment support our efforts."

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Why people break their New Year's resolutions (and how you can keep yours!)
Social scientist explains why it's not all about willpower.