Here’s why psychologists claim its harder to maintain a good habit or attain a new goal.

What would be your plans for the New Year? If you’re a resolutionist, its worth considering what you want to achieve. Maybe start a new career, become a pop star, workout for a bikini body before summer, and the list goes on and on. It seems challenging or trying to maintain a good habit or achieving a new goal. We like to ask: what resolutions are easiest? Straightforward answer: the easiest resolutions need the least work. It’s easier to drink a glass of water once than it is to drink eight glasses of water a day!

Related media: 10 Daily Habits That Changed My Life (Science-Backed)

If You Believe It, You’ll Achieve It

According to a 2018 study, work is just one of many factors in how challenging a resolution seems. For this study, researchers recruited about 300 participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (which has nothing to do with Turkey), and had them choose among five hypothetical goals about three different items: academic Grade Point Average (GPA), personal savings, and winning tennis. One of the goals was just to maintain a status quo, for instance, keeping GPA above 3.5. The other goals required a significant change — either small, medium, large, or very large.

The participants were sorted into five groups an had group focus on a specific category, ranking the difficulty of the goals within their group on a seven-point scale. Intuitively, as the results turned out, making a small significant change was easier than a medium change, which also easier than a large change. Unsurprisingly, maintaining a status quo was ranked slightly difficult than making a small change. (It was ranked 3.23 out of 7; small goals were ranked an average of 2.82).

Maintaining The Status Quo

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Making a small change to your life feels quite manageable. The researchers explained, “small” is the key word. But when there seem to be no changes to your life, then all factors at play suddenly slip out of your control. This is an effect the researchers call “negative bias.” Then you start thinking like, “Can I keep saving at the same pace as last year?” “What if the economy tanks?” “What if I have a family emergency?”

In another study, researchers asked the participants, which was easier: maintaining the status quo or making a small change. The participants mostly chose the status quo. But, when they were asked which type of goals they’d want to achieve, they mostly chose achieve the small goals. They confessed it would be difficult, but that would feel more satisfying.

Don’t Shoot For The Stars, Land On The Moon

In reality, its technically easy to maintain the status quo, but isn’t an easy psychological task. It takes quite an effort, with no payoff. That’s not the worse, working to maintain the status quo seems like the status quo itself feels unstable. This is the actual feeling: improving yourself bit by bit seems like an optical illusion, which focuses your attention on the things you can change, and on tasks that you can control.

Unfortunately, maintaining the status quo doesn’t hold your attention as much. As one of the authors say, its “a quirk in human psychology.” Maintaining your goals point your attention towards external forces out of your control. In other words, if you’ve set your New Year’s resolutions ambitiously, its not possible to jump right from zero to hero in just one year. But there’s no harm in trying, after all.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, Aug 13, 2019.


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