Georgia Gwinnett College professor dives into real reasons why people fail resolutions

Pic of David Ludden, Ph.D.

Dr. David Ludden 

By Collin Elder

Keeping up with those New Year’s resolutions? Chances are that you’re not—and you’re not alone.

A 2021 survey suggests that fewer and fewer people are making the changes they set out to do at the start of the year. Only 35% of the participants reported completing all of their goals. 

David Ludden, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College says the failure of best laid plans often has to do with diverging forces in one’s brain. 

“The emotional center of the brain pushes us to do things that feel good in the moment, while an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (right behind your forehead) pushes us to delay gratification to achieve long-term goals,” he said.

By this, Ludden said the difference between short-term and long-term goals comes down to emotional payoff versus instant gratification. We are hardwired to chase the instant reward of smaller, more accomplishable goals. That chemical hit from achieving something minor like quitting cigarettes for a week is more approachable to accomplish and provides immediate payoff as opposed to someone looking to quit for a month, or a year.

“We fall off the wagon before practice becomes routine,” he explained. “The muscle memories established in going to the gym, or dropping soft drinks, or even calling your mother once a day all require time and concerted effort.”

Ludden says the best way to persevere is to keep things in motion and make them routine.

“Holidays like Lent that encourage people to forgo something for a short period of time often fail to encourage true change,” he said. 

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