Tag Archives: False-Hope Syndrome

The month of March is upon us, and chances are you’ve already fallen victim to false-hope syndrome – yet again.

According to Human Kinetics, the premier publisher for sports and fitness, almost 50% of people who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get into shape stopped going to the gym by March 1st. MSNBC quotes an even higher statistic: Whereas health clubs are packed in January, they say, more than 75% of newbies will have called it quits by the end of March.

And yet every year, we typically make the very same resolution: to go the gym, lose weight, tone up, get healthy, and then some – even though most of us repeatedly fail by March (and that’s if we’re relatively persistent). Psychologists Polivy and Herman (2000) have coined the term “false-hope syndrome” to refer to this phenomenon best manifested by attempted and broken New Year’s resolutions. They say that individuals persist in attempting to change themselves despite repeated failure due to an overconfidence that includes feelings of control and optimism (e.g., the twin beliefs that losing weight is easy and fast), and expectations for an unrealistically high payoff from triumphant self-change (e.g., the assumption that changes in weight loss will catalyze major rewards in other, unrelated areas of life). Inevitably, when such unrealistic expectations are not met, individuals often experience disappointment, discouragement, and the perception of oneself as a failure. As these negative emotions build, a sort of Catch-22 results, such that the self-control required for eventual success falters and behavior spirals out of control.

Researchers therefore advise that, in order to create real hope (instead of false hope), we must be accurate in our initial assessments of the difficulty of self-change, commit to realistic goals and expectations, and hone a set of coping skills that build resiliency in the face of normal setbacks. So, with regards to the gym, for starters – get back in there! Understand that weight loss and getting healthy will not happen overnight and instead of shooting for a giant amount of pounds lost, set smaller, more attainable goals (i.e., eating a salad at lunch, running one mile tonight), and strive to attain a few each week. Moreover, if you miss a goal or fall short of an expectation – a minor failure should not set you completely off-track. Give yourself a little pep talk and tell yourself you won’t become a March 1st fitness statistic.

Don’t become a March 1st fitness statistic

Flipping the switch is only the first step

The False-Hope Syndrome: Unfulfilled expectations of self-change