Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The power of new year

For the past 2 months, I’ve been constantly annoyed by how packed the gym was during my usual work-out time. While I constantly tell myself that this “new year new me” craze would die down eventually, it makes me think of how amazing just a small change of number on our calendar can induce such a big change in people’s behaviour. In fact, there should probably be a behaviour change technique call the “new year” theory. Jokes aside, the change is real. Every year, despite knowing that the resolution will probably fall apart halfway through the year, people still come up with a new year resolution. They still try to change their behaviour on this special time of the year. The question is “WHY?”. Why bother? What’s the magic behind this magical day that get people so motivated to change?

My theory is that the intention to change has probably been on our mind for a period of time, but we as humans are risk averse as can be seen in Binswanger’s study in rural india (1978). To a certain extend, we are motivated by fear. We fear to be known as the flip flopper. The one who cannot keep up with the new year resolution we announced on our 500 followers social media. We fear to be an outcast who did not jump on the “new year new me” bandwagon when everyone else did. We fear to embarrass ourselves in front of our friends and family for not succeeding in our goals. However, at the same time, we also feel the need to improve ourselves, to get a step closer to our ideal self and reduce the discrepancy, to enhance our self-esteem. With those in mind, the new year just seem like the perfect timing to do so. This is the time when everyone is trying out new things, our resources (motivation, energy, time etc) are probably at their peak and failing at your new year resolutions is expected. Therefore, when the expectations of succeeding in your resolution is low, the risk of your fear happening is relatively lower too. What better timing to do something new than this period of time? 

In conclusion, people feel the need for self-improvement everyday but a new year just seems like a less risky time to actually do it. Of course, there are other behaviour techniques that make the change in new year seem more plausible than usual days. For example, people often announce their new year resolution, making a public commitment. This keeps people accountable to the goals that they have set. By the end of the day, I just wish that this craze can be over soon as I just want to go to the gym without feeling like I’m in a sardine can. 

Binswanger, H. P. (1980). Attitudes toward risk: Experimental measurement in rural India. American journal of agricultural economics, 62, 395-407.

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