Resolutions are decisions we make late on New Year’s Eve — an intention we plan to keep.
But in the light of January, the weight of what we’ve promised reveals itself — for me, usually on the bathroom scales. With a gasp I see my determination flee like a herd of baby boomers racing to the cruise buffet.
Those elusive resolutions to diet, exercise more, and stay within the budget in the New Year are the same ones that many make year after year — without success. I’m one of them.
Last year, I announced I was going to shed my pregnancy weight, but then one daughter had the insensitivity to remind me she’s now 42. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s someone slapping me in my chubby face with that fact.
However, I’ve just learned that my inability to have self-control is not my fault. Thankfully, scientific research has uncovered the reason people can’t keep their resolutions. Our prefrontal cortex is overtaxed.
This is good news that I found in an article by Jonah Lehrer. He reports that a Stanford University professor, Baba Shiv, led an experiment with several dozen college students that showed the brain was to blame for falling to temptation.
Half the group had a bunch of numbers to remember and the other half only a couple. The task was to then walk down the hall and choose between chocolate cake and fruit salad.
“Here's where the results get weird,” says Lehrer. “The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Prof. Shiv, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain — they were a "cognitive load" — making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert.”
Just thinking about those kids licking their ten chocolaty digits has me knowing the best thing to do. If I’m going to keep a New Year’s resolution, I can’t pack my brain with change. Instead, I need to focus on one item—an attainable vow.
How about this one: I will gain five pounds in 2012. That’s a resolution I can surely keep.