False Hope Syndrome: Why New Year Resolutions Fail

Did you make a New Year's resolution this year? Many people did, but - here's the bad news - despite their best effort, most will utterly fail. Why are New Year's resolutions so hard to keep? You can blame the False Hope Syndrome, the unrealistic expectation of self-change:

As many as 90 percent of attempts at change fail, yet New Year's resolvers are undeterred. In a 2002 report in the journal American Psychologist, University of Toronto researcher Janet Polivy and a colleague came up with a name for this "cycle of failure and renewed effort": the False Hope syndrome.

The False Hope syndrome may be particularly common among those who resolve to lose weight, Polivy said. And the chief cause is a combination of unrealistic goals and a misunderstanding of our own behavior.

For example, take the perenial New Year's resolution for millions, dieting. Instead of resolving to lose weight this year, perhaps the trick is to keep a food journal instead:

For example, dieters may chastise themselves for eating a few Oreos and feel sad about it. But this only increases their likelihood of emotional overeating. Jotting down a few notes about the sweet snack, however, allows you to be more realistic. By writing, "A couple of cookies isn’t so bad," you can prevent feelings of failure and the desire to give up, Mosunic said.

Caitlin Mason, an exercise and health researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said a food journal also reinforces what you’re doing right.

"It can help you see the positive changes you've made," Mason said, "and help you identify what triggers might be holding you back from your goals."


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Yup, Jessss. Going off the diet's like quitting smoking or drinking. If they fall off the wagon, they fall into the gutter. There's no halfsies.
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I think a lot of people have an "all or none" attitude towards dieting. If they cave and eat a couple of Oreos it's easy to say "well there's my day ruined. May as well make a few more allowances today and start the diet tomorrow!"
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That is why I resolved to not make personal health resolutions some years ago, and so far have stuck to it.

My resolutions are more "stuff" based, which I am doing good at not getting old stuff, at least for the sake of it. This year, would be to sort through my computer files and be ruthless about deleting ones I don't need, and make 3rd media and off-site backups, as well as reduce my power consumption or that of the household, at least a peak electric rate periods.
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@Courageous Grace

If getting pregnant was as difficult as loosing a significant amount of weight, the human species would be extinct by now.

BTW, congratulations.
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I think most fail at weigh loss because they really don't know what to do. I need to to be told how to exercise. I need to follow a meal plan and know how to avoid foods that will kasbash the whole effort. We are lied to by the food industry that just likes to slap the diet craze meme of the moment on their packaging. Others like to peddle the magic pill solution and many fall for that. That's why a program like P90x really works. No magic. Just hard work and clean eating that this idiot was able to follow and lose 50 lbs. Glad to help those that are interested: www.goferboy.com
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