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In the New York Times this morning, Tim Herrera wrote about how we make New Year’s resolutions: “We set an under-defined and overly ambitious goal for the new year, give up two weeks in, and by the end of January, forget the whole thing ever happened.” Half of us make New Year’s resolutions. The most popular ones are exercising and losing weight. This is why we see such huge spikes in gym memberships at the beginning of every year.

So why are 80% of resolutions destined for failure?

Psychologists say that self-change is often perceived as unrealistically easy to achieve. Moreover, merely embarking on attempts at self-change generate feelings of control and optimism that ignore the lessons of prior experience. Some sorts of self-change are feasible, but it is important to learn to distinguish between realistic and unrealistic goals, between confidence and overconfidence. Overconfidence breeds false hope, which creates inflated expectations of success. If you read Starting A Business? Read This First, you know that enthusiasm – quite counterintuitively – is a better predictor of failure than success. When we’re too positive, we condemn ourselves to failure because we’ve overestimated our own abilities and underestimated the time and effort involved.

The theory of implementation intentions, a term coined by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, maintains that we have a better chance of sticking to a goal if we think about contingencies in advance and prepare responses for each of them. Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at NYU, says studies show “The more people positively imagine their future success, the less well they do in terms of having actual success.”

Break away from the herd this year – resolve to not make a New Year’s resolution.

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