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Science behind New Year's resolutions

| Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

Dr. Greg Siegle, University of Pittsburgh associate professor of psychiatry, offers for some tips on setting realistic New Year's resolutions.

Question: How can we set realistic New Year's resolutions?

Answer: Setting immediate goals will help you maintain a resolution throughout the year. For example, a resolution such as losing weight is too far in the future, so your brain discounts the goal. However, if we make a New Year's resolution that has some impact right now, our brain will prioritize it. An illustration would be, “If I eat too much today, I will feel guilty about breaking my resolution.” This has consequences at the moment and, for that reason, our brain prioritizes the ambition.

Q: What happens to our brain when we set a New Year's resolution?

A: New Year's resolutions set our brain to trigger us into action when we are not acting on the goal. Our brain uses our uncomfortability to motive us to success — but to be successful, you must choose concrete resolutions that are easy to detect and measure. An abstract resolution like wanting to be a good person is difficult to maintain, but setting the goal to walk to work three times per week is easier for your brain to absorb.

Q: What should we keep in mind if we don't immediately achieve our goals?

A: Goals take time, hard work, perseverance, and commitment to achieve. Results often do not come as quickly as we hope, but if we stick to it, maintaining resolutions over time gets easier. The more we use connections between areas of the brain, the stronger those connections get. If you do the same thing every day, it becomes easier because the pathways that support you exercising the habit strengthen in your brain.

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