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Health & Science

Researchers Say Moderation Is The Key To Keeping Resolutions

Setting unrealistic goals leads to failure, but creating realistic expectations for yourself is likely to keep you motivated


We're three days into 2018 – how are your New Year's resolutions going? If you stumble along the way, you're not alone – some research shows that up to 80 percent of people who make a resolution will have given up on it by February.

Why do we falter so much when it comes to self-control? Professor Marco Palma, director of the Human Behavior Laboratory at Texas A&M University, says there are two contradictory theories about self-control – an initial act of self-control is either a motivator and an indicator of success, or it's the opposite. Under that theory, self-control is like a battery. When you begin to exercise it, you begin to lose the power needed to keep it up.

Palma says both theories are right. "Self-control has the components of a snowball also the components of a battery," he says. "The more you use it, the better you get at it, but if you overdo it, you're less likely to accomplish more self-control ability."

To test the theory, Palma conducted research using traditional behavioral experiments, along with neurophysiological data. Palma and his researchers observed what subjects did as they exercised self-control, as well as how they behaved later, when self-control was called for.

"What this means is that if you go to the gym in the morning and exercise mildly, you might be able to use your self-control ability through the day," Palma says. "But then if you overdo it and go two hours, your self-control battery might burn out."

Written by Shelly Brisbin.