Perceived Complexity and Will Power

While willpower and dedication matter considerably in sustaining a resolution and reaching a desired goal, the perceived complexity of the process can have a big influence on whether we are likely to achieve that goal or not.

This conclusion comes from a study showing how the subjective “cognitive complexity” of a diet was a major factor in whether people successfully managed to stick to a diet.

“For people on a more complex diet […] their subjective impression of the difficulty of the diet can lead them to give up on it,” reported Peter Todd, professor in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

[…] This effect holds even after controlling for the influence of important social-cognitive factors including self-efficacy, the belief that one is capable of achieving a goal like sticking to a diet regimen to control one’s weight.

“Even if you believe you can succeed, thinking that the diet is cognitively complex can undermine your efforts.”

This agrees with the conclusions drawn from separate research showing how some simple tricks to making successful resolutions include reducing our “cognitive load” and accepting the limitations of willpower.

Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource.

Given its limitations, New Year’s resolutions are exactly the wrong way to change our behavior. […] Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year. […] A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.