Scientific Resolution

Single candle with flame.

As we hurtle towards another New Year it’s natural to look not just to the future ahead but also back over the past year. Looking over the last 365 days I see many things that I had wanted, but didn’t quite manage, to achieve. Looking ahead there are many things I would still like to do or habits I would like to change. Should I set myself resolutions? Would that be helpful? I feel I veer wildly between being too ambitious and setting myself up for failure (“I’m going to exercise every day, for an hour!”) and not ambitious enough. Last year I gave up coffee for a month. And then what? I started drinking it again.*

The science

There are two main schools of thought behind brain behaviour science that influence the success of New Year’s resolutions: the science of habit and the science of self-stories.

Forming New Habits

The former involves starting small and attaching it to a previous habit. “I will get fit” is both ambitious and vague, neither of which are helpful. You are setting yourself up for failure. “I will take the stairs at work” or “I will walk the dog for an extra ten minutes” is more manageable because you attach a specific intent to an already established routine: going to work or walking the dog. If you can manage this for a week, you might just re-condition your old habits into new ones.

Rewriting Self-Stories

Now the self-stories theory – to me as a writer – is more interesting. In his book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By, social psychologist Timothy Wilson describes a large body of impressive research of how stories can change behaviour long-term.

You can read an interview with him about it here.

One technique he outlines is “story-editing”. We all have stories about ourselves operating at all times that drive our behaviour, an idea of who we are. These have a powerful influence on our decisions and actions: we want to make decisions that match our idea of ourselves. Most of this decision-making based on stories happens subconsciously but it is possible to actively rewrite the underlying stories. Literally. Through a series of exercises. And by changing the underlying self-story that is operating, you can change your behaviour.

So, for example, if you claim not to like gyms and therefore by extension exercise you could rewrite this. You don’t like gyms but you feel good after exercise so you have found a yoga class/Nordic walking/running club (delete as appropriate) that you enjoy. If you don’t have time to exercise because you’re always putting your family’s needs first, be less of a martyr – persuade, bribe or employ someone else to babysit or even cook dinner while you go to the gym (or yoga class or that Nordic walking/running club).

You can even change personality traits. Want to be more optimistic? Rewrite the story so you are a glass half-full person. Want to be less of a nag when your kids are making you all late? Rewrite your story so you are more laid-back. Perhaps your kids will learn better time-keeping this way anyway.

The technique of story-editing is so simple that it doesn’t seem possible that it can result in such deep and profound change. But the research shows that one re-written self-story can make all the difference.

Give it a try

What have you got to lose? This year use perhaps try science over willpower to create and stick to your New Year’s resolutions.

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Should we bother with them?  If so, what are you goals this year and do you have any tips on how to keep to them?  


*Now it’s been announced that drinking coffee does have health benefits after all (I feel a post brewing). Who knew?


Signed by: Monika.


  1. Doreen Pendgracs on 1 January 2018 at 9:06 pm

    Interesting technique to rewrite your own life story. I’ve not heard of that technique before. I generally don’t do NY resolutions, but I do have goals. My primary goal for this year is to help my husband adjust to living in a personal care home, and to enjoy the freedom I will have once we have gone thru that process. Definitely time for some ‘me time’ again. Wishing you all the best for a happy and healthy 2018.

    • Monika Maurer on 1 January 2018 at 11:35 pm

      Hi Doreen, neither had I! But my husband (a medical psychotherapist) had – so it must be true! It sounds as if this year will present you with particular personal challenges but I do hope that you and your husband make the transition to your new living arrangements smoothly and that you enjoy your well-deserved “me” time when it arrives. Likewise I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2018.

  2. Lenie on 2 January 2018 at 12:16 am

    Hi Monika – I have never made New Year’s resolutions – I’ve seen to many people make and break them within a week so I figured why bother. I do set goals for myself all year long and have a constant ‘must do, want to do’ lost on the go and mark things off when they’re complete.

    As for the coffee drinking – I no longer take any of that serious. After all the concern about eggs and cholesterol we now are told eggs aren’t the problem. My parents lived to well in their nineties using the principle “all things in moderation”. So that’s what I practice. 🙂

    • Monika Maurer on 2 January 2018 at 2:55 pm

      Hi Lenie! Your post made me smile. My grandfather lived until his 90s, drinking nothing but coffee and beer, eating pork fat and dumplings and the only vegetable he ever ate was Sauerkraut! A large part of longevity is clearly genetic. Regarding resolutions, I think you are with the general consensus here in that goals are much more helpful than resolutions. Still, the start of a new year is always a good time to revisit and revise!

  3. Phoenicia on 2 January 2018 at 8:16 am

    I prefer to call them goals and I do set them – each year.

    I agree that New Year’s resolutions should be achievable and you should know how you are going to achieve them otherwise you are likely to fail from the onset. Without NYR one simply coasts through life rarely improving on any area of themselves. There is always room for development and we should not be too hard on ourselves whilst on the journey.

    • Monika Maurer on 2 January 2018 at 9:19 am

      Yes, goals is a better word – or perhaps intentions? You’re right, there is always room for development but I wonder why we are always so hard on ourselves?

  4. Catarina on 2 January 2018 at 11:16 am

    Good way of looking at reaching your goals by re-writing your self-story. It ties in with the two things that decide if you reach your goal or not: determination and perseverance. If you are not determined and persevere you will not succeed with anything. Doesn’t matter if you have 100 phd’s you will still fail.

    • Monika Maurer on 2 January 2018 at 2:50 pm

      Yes Catarina, I agree. Perhaps we should all rewrite ourselves to be determined and have perseverance!? I certainly could do with a little more of both. I am determined this year to make a success of my blog – but then, how does one define success? Good luck with your goals this year too.

  5. William Rusho on 3 January 2018 at 6:00 pm

    For me it is forming a habit.
    When I work out, if I do it the same time each day, I soon find myself heading to they gym without even thinking about it.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Monika Maurer on 4 January 2018 at 9:12 am

      Hi William. Yes! Habit is good! I find working from home it is harder to form habits as every day is different. January is often a time for renewal but for me it is often a time for post-festive slump. Must cultivate better habits!

  6. Kristina Rylova on 4 January 2018 at 11:39 am

    Personally I am a big believer in resolutions.. Starting New Year always gives you extra energy and motivation to make changes in your life.. It is not about keeping this resolution but setting New Challenge for a New Year to become better and constantly work on it no matter what.

    • Monika Maurer on 4 January 2018 at 5:41 pm

      I applaud your positivity Kristina! I’m glad you are feeling motivated and hope you manage to keep to your new challenge, whatever that is this year.

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Writer, blogger, mother, wife, wannabe yogi.
Good intentions, zero willpower.

Signed by: Monika Maurer

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