Beating the Stubborn Brain: Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

During the first week of January 2020 I decided to take a trip to my local gym. I thought, “What better way to start off the year, right?”


Young, perky couples walked on every treadmill, old men on bicycles shouted at each other over their music and the number of men with necks thicker than their thighs outnumbered the amount of free weights available. It was packed. 

But over the past few weeks, the numbers have started to slowly decline. Oddly enough, the new year rush is coming to an end — and it’s only the first week of February. 

What is it about the first month of the year that suddenly inspires the world to make dramatic changes? And what is it about the second month of the year that makes it abandon all hope?

According to Dr. Lynn White, a psychology professor of 23 years at Southern Utah University with a Ph.D in physiological psychology, making a New Year’s resolution is often more complicated than we believe it to be. 

Firstly, White believes the concept of making a large behavioral change at the beginning of the year is purely cultural. 

“Often times we’re influenced by the perceived norms at the time. And one of the perceived norms is that…we make New Year’s resolutions. We grow up with that expectation,” White said. 

Once the obligation to conform has set in, achieving resolutions is much more difficult than social media influencers perceive it to be. Simply posting on Facebook that you’ll lose 20 pounds in the year isn’t going to cut it. But why is it that a day of over confidence isn’t enough to carry one through the year? 

For starters, the resolutions desired aren’t typically small changes for our bodies and brains to make. According to a study conducted by YouGov in December 2019, the No. 1 resolution made by Americans was to exercise more. Eating healthier and losing weight were also in the top five.

“For somebody to think that they can change and it’s just a matter of stating it publicly, that in and of itself is oversimplifying the process. We try and change behaviors that are pretty integral to who we are,” White continued. 

According to White, there are almost 100 established techniques for changing behavior. One model that she is particularly fond of is the Behavior Change Wheel. It states that there are three critical requirements for establishing change: motivation, opportunity and capability. 

For someone to make a critical change in their life, they might want to ask themselves the following questions:

  1. Do you have the internal motivation to change?
  2. Do you understand what is involved both physically and psychologically to make the change? Are you capable of meeting that?
  3. Will you have social encouragement and support throughout the process?

Without questioning this criteria in the process of making goals, it becomes much easier to fall back into old habits. 

White praises the importance and effectiveness of resolving together. While most might think of a resolution as a personal goal, it’s bound to be more successful when the journey is completed as a team. 

“When people make these resolutions without the help of somebody… the chances are greatly reduced if they don’t have the proper help and support that they need.”

For anyone struggling to keep up their biggest resolution, White suggests turning to professional coaches and trainers to best educate on obtaining goals. As a college student, try turning to friends and mentors. 

If you’re feeling guilty about giving up a resolution one month into the year, just remember that it’s not all about being lazy. Try again, this time with a little support. Your brain is one stubborn thing. 

For more information on Dr. White and her research, visit her website


Story by: Amanda Walton
Photo Courtesy of and