The science of New Year’s resolutions

Lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, yell less. These are all resolutions we can keep with just a little willpower, right?

Your brain may have other ideas.

The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain just behind your forehead, is responsible for willpower, staying focused and handling short-term memory. This part of the brain is like a muscle that needs to be trained. Making a resolution to lose weight or quit smoking, is a bit much for your brain to handle. It’s too abstract for your brain to focus on.

Focus on changing habits, instead of trying to make large over-the-top life changes. For instance, you really want to lose weight? First concentrate on one specific thing about weight loss, like exercising more. Then break that down to exercising each morning, then break it down even more by gg58639159just getting your butt out the door in the morning. Baby steps!

Unhealthy eating habits and lack of sleep can affect our health and well-being in many ways, and that also includes being able to stick to our resolutions. Dr. Kelly McGonigal describes willpower as a “complex mind-body response that can be compromised by stress, sleep deprivation and nutrition.”  She also states that people have more willpower in the morning, so do what you need to do early in the morning if possible. And don’t be overly optimistic. Know your limits and try to plan for them.

If you’re looking for a resolution that’s easy to keep, there are plenty of lists out there with suggestions like cooking at home more often or reading one new book each month. Or how about going to the Maine Science Festival in March?  It will be the easiest resolution you’ll want to keep!