People in the gym behaviour change new years resolution

Why is behaviour change so hard?

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New Year, new start? You have made some resolutions for this year, but in the past, you have struggled to keep them. You may be wondering why changing our behaviour is one of the hardest things to do. Here we break down some of the reasons why behaviour change is so difficult.



Take this scenario; you decide that you need to save money, so you want to cut back on takeaway food. You have set a goal but it takes a lot of energy and thought to make a behaviour change, and it is particularly hard when you are under pressure. In this example, you get home after a long shift at work, and you’re tired and hungry and so is your family, so you go back to your habit of ordering takeaway. It’s almost automatic, easy to do and comfortable.



When you make your resolution – e.g. I will lose weight – you feel good about it at that moment, and so you forecast that you will feel the same way in the future. The problem is the reality doesn’t live up to your feel good forecast. It doesn’t feel good to cancel after work drinks to go to the gym or to get up off the couch to go for a run. This leads to procrastination and going back to your old comfortable habits.


Fear and negativity

We may think that negative emotions, like fear and guilt, will help us to change our behaviour. But research has suggested that the least effective strategies for changing behaviour are the ones that encourage people to regret their action and arouse fear[1]. It is better to have positive thinking.


Too broad

You’ve decided to make a change and think you can do it all in one go. You make your goal to eat healthy food, but you have no plan in place to reach it. Think of it as a work or building project and break it down into stages. For example, stage one – buy more vegetables, stage two – make lunch at home. We need smaller actions we can measure instead of one big broad goal that isn’t well-defined.


Gradual change

Changing our behaviour is usually not a single event, but something that occurs over time. It also rarely takes place in a linear way. We often move back and forth, and you should expect frequent lapses.


Just remember that any effort you make is worthwhile even if it is small, so don’t get too discouraged or down on yourself.



[1] Sheeran, P. Does Changing Attitudes, Norms or Self-efficacy Change Intentions and Behaviour?: ESRC Research Summary, RES-000-22-0847. Swindon: ESRC


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