Every year, half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, according to the latest Marist Poll, one-third will fail. So, how do you make sure you succeed? Columbia Business School professor of business Gita Johar has advice for holding fast to your goals. Her trick: “Make it painful to break your resolution.”
How to Make Breaking a New Year’s Resolution Painful
The idea is to impose penalties on yourself for failing to keep your resolution. This can make it far more likely that you’ll follow through. By associating a negative outcome with failure, you’ll resist temptations to quit. “Self-punishment leads to heightened goal accessibility,” Johar believes.
And the idea of adding self-imposing penalties and restrictions is not new. Its origin goes back to ancient Greece and the Odyssey when Odysseus tied himself to his ship’s mast to resist the call of the Sirens. For modern times, the concept can be applied to using a smartphone app to reduce screen time or using an alcoholism drug to stop alcohol abuse.
“Enduring pain, in other words, is not just a nudge to do better in the future but also an inward sign of self-control,” Johar’s research explained. “You feel you have more self-control if you’re able to withstand pain.”
Proof Is in the Pudding
To prove her concept of using pain to succeed, Johar and her colleagues conducted a “painful” experiment that tested students’ willingness to drink bitter juice and listen to unpleasant noise.
In one experiment, 205 undergraduate students were tasked with thinking about a time they had too little self-control and overspent. They were then asked to read either an article about how negative sensory experiences were an indicator of self-control or how negative experiences had no indication of self-control. All students were then asked to drink bitter juice.
The students who read that self-control and negative experiences go together drank more bitter juice than others—they punished themselves for their failure with money. “Upon recalling a self-control failure that one feels responsible for, individuals who believe their personal qualities can change are more likely to endure negative experiences,” explained Johar.
The takeaway is that if you want to reach your 2019 New Year’s resolutions, you need to aim high and back up your goals with firm self-punishments when you fail. Read more about this idea on the Columbia Business School news site.