New Year’s Resolutions: Why Some People Win, But Most People Lose
Home 5 Blogs 5 New Year’s Resolutions: Why Some People Win, But Most People Lose
New Year’s Resolutions: Why Some People Win, But Most People Lose
Home 5 Blogs 5 New Year’s Resolutions: Why Some People Win, But Most People Lose

Many of you are no doubt considering your New Year’s Resolutions. You have probably done this more than once. Unfortunately, like many of you, I have made and broken many New Year’s resolutions. Today, we will talk about why this happens and how you can manage these influences to a better outcome in 2023.

A typical New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. I have made that one more than once myself. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life. All you’ve got to do is Google Colin Shaw, and you’ll see me at various weight stages throughout my last 20 years. However, I lost 90 pounds last year using this diet called LighterLife®.

We lost weight because my wife had a back problem that needed surgery. However, the consultant told us that she needed to lose weight before the surgery for it to work. So, we decided to lose weight.

One of the things I learned was when I ate, it wasn’t just because I was hungry. Instead, I was eating because of the way I felt. Once I understood that I changed my relationship with food.

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Much of my eating was habitual. For example, if I were upset, I would eat. However, if I were celebrating, I would also eat. Even when I stood up from my desk during the day to walk around and stretch my legs, I would stretch them right over to the fridge. I had become a grazer. Sure, I ate meals, and I grazed all day in between. What’s more, these actions were automatic for me.

Now, I’ve been on many diets in my life. Previous diets focus on what you can’t have because those foods are not allowed. However, that is all in our heads.

On this diet, LighterLife (I am not a sponsor of it or anything; it worked for me, though), I learned to think of these foods differently. It wasn’t that I couldn’t eat it; instead, I could have that, but I am choosing not to eat it now. However, I told myself I could have it tomorrow if I wanted it. Little things like that helped.

New Year’s Resolutions Often Require Changing Habits

Telling myself that I was choosing not to have that food right then was a framing manipulation. If I had framed that food choice as a denial, something I was losing, I would have had a more challenging time and more angst about not having it. However, because I framed it as my choice to delay that food until later, I didn’t have that same feeling of loss about it.

When we talk about New Year’s resolutions, we usually talk about either breaking bad habits or forming good ones. Sometimes it’s both. Let’s briefly review habits, and then we can tie this into New Year’s resolutions.

Habits are straightforward. The habit cycle goes like this:

Cue. This one is also sometimes referred to as a trigger.

Response. Your automatic behavior kicks in.

Reward. You get what you want when you receive the cue.


Habits are a symptom of the two systems of thinking we use for decision-making. These two systems, System One and System Two, were first introduced by Nobel-prize-winning economist Professor Daniel Kahneman and featured in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow. We renamed the two systems for our book, The Intuitive Customer, the Intuitive System, which is fast and emotion-based thinking, and the Rational System, which is slow and logic-driven thinking. The Intuitive System handles habits.

The Intuitive System is our automatic responses to things, gut reactions, and inner voice. It reads signals out in the world and tries to help us by nudging us in a direction. So, these signals can trigger memories, base desires, goals, or all of these at once. When it gets a trigger that leads to one of our habits, and the reward we get for participating in the behavior, the Intuitive System kickstarts our action and begins the habitual cycle.

So, for example, if I see a cream bun or a cookie (trigger), my Intuitive System nudges me toward eating it (response) because I like the taste of it (reward). So the habit—and the automatic Intuitive System—has done its job.

However, habits are not insurmountable. You can change the behavior if you stop the response after the trigger and disrupt it.

12.20 Article Quote PictureSo, if I see the cream bun and feel the urge to stuff it in my gob, but I stop myself by remembering I am on a diet, I can intervene in the automatic process. I can stop myself by choosing not to eat it right then. Maybe later, but not then.

However, habits are so powerful because the reward is so good. Not all rewards work for The Intuitive System. For example, if I were dieting for swimsuit season, I would eat the cream bun, no question. My Intuitive System does not give a fig about how I look in a swimsuit. Long-term goals mean nothing to it. The Intuitive System likes cream buns and how good they make you feel when you taste them.

This point is where rationality can help. As I told you, in my case, the diet was doctor-ordered for my wife’s back surgery, and we resolved to diet together. That reward, my wife’s successful surgery, and improved health were important enough to my Rational System that it intervened with the Intuitive System’s nudge toward cream bun.

I have seen similar behavior from the perspective of business and Customer Experience. Loads of organizations have decided to improve their Customer Experience, but once they get into it, they get overwhelmed. It is more demanding than they thought, so they start cutting resources for the program, staffing, and everything else. Effectively, the organization says, it’s not worth it. Then, they slip into old habits.

Don’t Backslide Once You Get There, Which is Harder Than it Sounds

Avoiding slipping into old habits is the next part of the battle. When you form a good habit, like my new eating habits, you usually want to have them for the rest of your life. However, old habits, like old shoes, are very comfortable. Therefore, it isn’t surprising when people return to their old way of doing things, even if they were successful in changing temporarily.

Goal maintenance is complicated. When we have that challenging goal, that endpoint, like I want to lose weight for this reunion or lose a certain amount of weight overall, we are motivated. Then, once we hit that goal, all we have to do is maintain it.

However, here’s the rub: maintenance is more challenging in some ways than progress.

Why? Maintaining something like the lost weight is more challenging because there’s no reward. Okay, maybe not, no reward, but it’s something like, “well, things didn’t get worse this week.” Things “not getting worse” is not as motivational as showing all those people who were mean to you in high school how thin you are today.

So How Do We Succeed and Maintain our New Year’s Resolutions?

One of the ways that you can persevere in your New Year’s Resolution for 2023 is to recognize the psychology at work behind the scenes. For example, emotions or habits often call the shots with the behavior you want to change. Without that knowledge, you might take an approach that feeds into failure rather than success.

Managing the memories that your Intuitive System recalls when trying to change a behavior is essential. For example, if you want to incorporate gym workouts into your routine, managing what the Intuitive System remembers about the gym is crucial.

Actor Terry Crews is a very fit actor. He has muscles on top of muscles. Many people ask him for his advice regarding getting fit like he is and what his secret is for committing to the gym. He tells people that it is essential to ease into it.

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Crews says many people will approach the gym with too much intensity. Then, they get sore, burn out, and give up. Instead, he thinks people should go to the gym the first time and barely work out, if at all. The first day should be about getting used to the environment rather than starting your program. It should be enjoyable so that you want to go back.

I mention this story because Crews captures an essential concept about changing behavior. If you flood the Intuitive System with general unpleasantries about going to the gym, that is what it will bring to mind when it’s time to go back. Your Intuitive System will be fighting you to keep you from returning to that awful, terrible place.

However, if you give the Intuitive System a pleasant memory about the gym, something it can recall at the moment that feels more like a reward than a punishment, it will provide a better memory. Perhaps even one that makes you look forward to the gym. Managing what the Intuitive System associates with your new behavior make it more likely that you can continue your progress toward changing behavior and forming a new habit.

We have reached the end of another year. We also achieved an incredible milestone of 70,000 subscribers. So, thank you for that. I hope this newsletter continues to provide helpful insight in 2023. I also wish all of you a Happy New Year, readers! May this year bring you much happiness, many happy returns—and a lot of success with whatever resolution you make.

If you have a business problem that you would like some help with, contact me on LinkedIn or submit your pickle here. We would be glad to hear from you and help you with your challenges.

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