04. Wellness

How to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

January 2, 2017

Are you still recovering from a New Year’s Eve party? Have you given any thought to your new year’s resolutions? Popular resolutions often involve eating healthier or exercising more, essentially any activities that numb a guilty conscious after overindulging during the holidays.

Whether your resolution is to learn a new language or finally start that home project, you’re going to need a lot more help than just good intentions. Here’s how to trick your brain into keeping all of your new year’s resolutions.

Prompting Behavioral Change

Studies reveal that good intentions only prompt a change in behavior 20% to 30% of the time. Surprisingly, the more positive we are about our good intentions, the less likely we’ll be able to stick to our resolutions.

In fact, the best predictor of what you do in 2017, will be what you did in 2016. Fortunately, there is a magic solution that can bridge the gap between goal intentions and goal accomplishment. No, the solution isn’t writing them all down on a fancy list. It involves what behavioral psychologists call “implementation intentions.”

Implementation Intentions

Although a lot of research exists on “implementation intentions,” in one groundbreaking study, researchers pooled subjects who intended to start exercising and assigned them to three groups. The Control Group received no input from the researchers. The Experiment Group 1 received educational materials correlating exercise and good cardio-vascular health. And the Experiment Group 2 stated its “implementation intentions” by filling out this form:

“During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on (day or days) ____ at ____ (time of day) at/in (place) ____.”

Resolution Study Outcomes

Which group do you think had the greatest success at sticking to their resolution? If you guessed Group 2, you’re right! In fact, 91% of Group 2 members ended up exercising. It appears that actually thinking about their goal and writing down the details of their exercise plan proved beneficial. This was more than double the other two groups, where the results were only 39% for Group 1 and 20% for the Control Group.

Behavioral psychologists hypothesize that the individuals who did not make implementation intentions, may not have recognized the opportunities to act, and consequently did not get around to realizing their intentions to exercise. Interestingly enough, writing down what you hope to accomplish is not sufficient. The importance of implementation intentions lies in “if-then” statements. For instance, “If it’s 7am on Tuesday, then I will go to the gym to exercise” is far more effective than simply writing “At 7am on Tuesday, I will go to the gym and exercise.”

Sticking to Your Resolutions

When writing your new year’s resolutions, you should be writing: “If situation Y is encountered, then I will perform the goal-directed response Z.” Our brains effectively get tricked into automatically and subconsciously responding to if/then statements. As a result, you will do what you said you were going to do unconsciously, similar to a habit.

So essentially, if you want to follow through with those resolutions, consider using implementation intentions. They essentially help us fool ourselves into doing something – you consciously formulate a plan and then unconsciously execute it. Wishing you the best of luck!

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