New Years Resolutions: Habit vs. Willpower – One in the same?


Here is what we will cover in the following article:

• Why New Years resolutions are so hard to keep.
• The area of the brain that functions the most during this time.
• Willpower and does it have a life span.
• How can we keep our Willpower bucket full.
• How to pick the right habit and make it successful.

According to Forbes magazine only 8% of the 40% of Americans who make New Years resolutions keep them.

Here at Cypress Fitness we will be working hard to get people back on track after the holidays. The days are shorter, sleep seems to be at a premium, and there will always be one child in the family sick and you want to get healthier!

Why Are New Years Resolutions So Hard To Keep?

The area located right behind your forehead is called the prefrontal cortex and it is this area of the brain that keeps us motivated and drives our willpower bucket.

The main duties of your prefrontal cortex

~ Orchestrates thoughts and actions with internal goals
~Decision Making
~Solving Abstract Tasks
~Staying Focused





Why is this important?

We go to great lengths during the holiday period to decompress and relax to start the New Year right. I have heard many analogies to the Willpower bucket, but one that makes the most sense to me comes from friend, Dr. Jade Teta with Metabolic Effect and his analogy to Willpower as a car battery. Back to work comes with a Christmas gift with 2 weeks of backed up holiday emails, phone calls, traffic jams, weather stresses etc – which take away from the limited amount of mental energy we have to be successful.

If you are like many folks starting the New Year, you also increase the battery drain by adding as many healthy habits as possible. This is admirable, but at the same time a recipe for failure. Just look at the beginning statistics from Forbes.

For many of us, the New Year brings new fitness habits when most have been on exercise sabbatical. As well as a head first dive into eating acorn, grass and bark with the hopes of loosing the holiday bloat

To be successful at our New Years resolution, we must look at the power of HABIT and how we can make these new habits stick.


The Power Of Healthy Habits – Or Lack There Of!

John Berdardi of Precision nutrition describes the success of new habits with simple, powerful metrics.

Working on one behavior change at a time, has an 80% success rate. Adding two behavior changes, has a success rate of less than 35%. Now here is the kicker, adding 3 or more behavior changes drops the success rate to less than 5%. No wonder New Years resolutions do not have a high success rate.

Here at Cypress, we use the numeral system for Habit based coaching, taken directly from Precision Nutrition. When we give a new habit to a client, we ask the simple question: “on a scale of 1-10, 10 being successful, how successful do you think you will be at “x” habit. Anything below an 8, we change the habit and find one they can positively say – 8, 9 or 10!

One Habit –Many Success’ = Start Another New Habit.


Stanford Study On WillPower:

This is a very interesting study done at Stanford and I have to thank Frederic Patenaude’s blog for pointing me to this study.

Two groups of students were given numbers to memorize. One group had to memorize a two-digit number, while the other had to memorize a seven-digit number. The two groups were then asked to take a walk while remembering the number. After the walk, they were presented with a fruit salad or a slice of cake.

Who do you think had the slice of cake?


Right – the seven-digit group. One can hypothesize that the seven-digit number is clearly harder to memorize, which exhausted their decision making space in their prefrontal cortex.

This is the exact cognitive overload that happens when you try to incorporate more than one habit at a time.
It is that time of the year when every fitness professional is inundated with New Years resolutions, lofty goal aspirations and weight loss.

So I repeat, what if I told you that most people fail at their New Years Resolution? Could you tell me why?

The average New Years resolution dies at 2 weeks.

How many Habits are you going to try?

Your WillPower bucket gets over run and not only does it affect your health, food and exercise, but it will spill over into your job, family and lifestyle.

Small incremental changes lead to success.


Top 7 Take aways from this post:

1. Start with small measurable habits.

  •  i.e Drink 2 liters of water a day.
  • i.e Take a multi vitamin a day.
  • i.e Exercise 2x week

2. Use a 1-10 scale to measure your personal habit success rates.
3. Anything less than an 8, pick a new habit.
4. Once you have mastered habit “A”, pick a new one.
5. Habits should be year sustaining.
6. Hire a coach to make sure habits fit your profile.
7. Know your personal battery. When you feel that Willpower battery draining, know how to recharge quickly. It can take one major moment to suck you dry till your next re-charge vacation.

If you are like me, you will have a very supportive significant other that helps you recognize when your battery is low and allows you to re-charge.   Find out what things recharge you, write them down and go to them in times of need.

Happy New Year
~ Chris and your Cypress Family!