Why do we love to make New Year’s resolutions?

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It’s that time of year when we feel compelled to make a New Year’s Resolution.  We spend time and creativity crafting resolutions, yet few actually plan to fulfill them, Why bother to do it?

We do it because resolutions give us an ideal version of ourselves, according to Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., an awarding winning professor at Stanford University and author of How Self Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It.  She spoke Saturday on NPR’s health show, The People’s Pharmacy. 

Making resolutions, according to Dr. McGonigal, makes us feel hopeful, happier and more optimistic.  We boost our egos, often feel stronger and taller.  We make resolutions, in short, because it gives us a buzz.

When we fail to fulfill our resolutions, as the vast majority of us do, we fall further behind.  Dr. McGonigal’s research shows that we deal with setbacks with guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame are not motivators, Dr. McGonigal said.   These negative emotions do not help us get back on track.  They are evidence we use against ourselves, evidence of our failure.  An overeater, for example, will use guilt and same to label herself and then will overeat more.

The solution, Dr. McGonigal said, is to not blame ourselves but to use self-compassion.  We are not letting ourselves off the hook, she explains.  Rather, by forgiving ourselves for being human, we give ourselves permission to get back on track.

She discusses the Hell Effect.  If we set huge goals, we fail.  We think, “What the hell.  I’ll never change.”

We need to set realistic goals, or we can expect to fail.  Realistic goals are more likely to be met.  Dr. McGonigal suggests asking what is the smallest change we are willing to take.  We are more likely to fulfill a resolution with a specific intention, a small step.

She suggests envisioning a future version of yourself.   Ask yourself, “What do I really want?  What will my life be like in 2013 if I fulfill this resolution?”

The People’s Pharmacy is heard locally at 7 a.m. on Saturdays on WUSF, the local public radio station.  It’s found at 89.7 FM. The show is also available via Internet and a a webcast.

Dr. Kelly McGonigal’s book How Self Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It is available on Amazon and in local bookstores.

— Wendy Risk, SaintPetersBlog correspondent.  You may reach Wendy at risk.wendy@gmail.com.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.