Resolutions and Breaking Bad Habits

Jan 05

Are you finding it difficult to keep your New Year’s resolution that you made only 5 days ago? An interesting article was published in the Washington Post yesterday discussing New Year’s resolutions and the role of the brain in “sabotaging” success.


The reason we find it hard to keep resolutions that require us to break habits is because habits literally become wired into our brains. And bad habits are the hardest to break, according to the article, because your body is required to fight an immediate reward which may feel unnatural at first. 

I love the example featured by the Washington Post : “It’s the fudge vs. broccoli choice: Chocolate’s yum factor tends to beat out the knowledge that sticking with veggies brings an eventual reward of lost pounds.”

Luckily, understanding the whys and hows of the brain’s reward system can help us as individuals keep our own resolutions, and importantly, this understanding can help us as social marketers better understand our audiences and help them with meaningful healthy decision making.

Bad habits like smoking or eating excessive amounts of sweets form because dopamine (a pleasure chemical, if you will) is immediately released in the brain upon consumption. Dopamine conditions the brain to want reward again and again – reinforcing the connection each time, and thus, forming a habit.

What we need to recognize is that there are ways to break bad habits that can also re-wire our audience’s brains. (Sounds weird, right?) If our audiences could understand these principals through social marketing programs, we would be a much healthier nation:

Exercise. Exercise raises dopamine levels, so eventually those who try it out could recognize the feel-good-ness of activity, and this could turn into a great habit.

Rewards. Rewards can be powerful.  Personal rewards should be encouraged in public health campaigns. The benefits of living healthy will come in time, but after milestones, like after the first month of exercising regularly,  people should reward themselves in some way, and they’ll be more likely to continue their healthy behavior.

No Stress. Stress can activate bad-habit activity in the brain.

Stopping Rituals. Bad habits become stronger when they’re repeated.

Happy New Year everyone!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 at 8:03 pm and is filed under Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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