We love resolving to do better, whether it's on New Year's or any other day of the year. I'll watch less TV! I'll lose weight! I'll exercise more! Invariably, we fail.
Why are our bad habits so hard to break?
"The problem is that people make rules for themselves that they can never keep," says University of Alabama at Birmingham psychologist Rudy Vuchinich, who is a professor of medical psychology.
When it comes to self-control, we have a choice between immediate and delayed consequences. For example, previous research has shown that if people are given a choice of getting $5 one year from now or $10 one year and a week from now, people choose the $10. However, if given the choice to receive $5 today or $10 one week from today, most people's preference would be the reverse. Why? Vuchinich says part of our brains are wired to overvalue things that are immediate.
"People routinely make rules when they are trying to change their self-control," he explains. For example, if you want to lose weight, you might make a rule not to eat more than 1,500 calories a day, a rule that is likely to be broken. And that smacks of failure. Once the rule is broken, the legitimacy of the rule collapses--and you're right back where you started, eating 2,500 calories a day.
So how can you break a bad habit? "One trick is to make rules that allow for well-defined exceptions such as 'I will eat no more than 1,500 calories a day except on special occasions,'" says Vuchinich. "But the special occasion has to be outside your control such as a holiday, a home football game or when visiting parents. It has to be a special circumstance that does not lead to the collapse of the whole rule."
Follow this trick, and you can change your behavior for the better.
--From the Editors at Netscape