Did you resolve to lose weight in 2010? The only thing that might be slim are your chances.
In December 2007, Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. released the results of what he’s calling the largest study into the psychology of New Year’s resolutions. Throughout 2007, he tracked over 3,000 people who had made a range of resolutions, from losing weight to quitting smoking. At the start of the study, 52% of participants were confident of success. One year later, he reports, only 12% had achieved their goal.
The actual success rate for the public might be even worse. “Because these people were taking part in a study, they were more motivated than most. So even 1 in 10 is an optimistic figure,” says Wiseman.
What can affect your chances of keeping your resolution? Wiseman offers these insights:
Narrow your focus
- Make only one resolution. If you’ve made more, focus on the one that’s most important right now. Many people make the mistake of trying to achieve too much, Wiseman says. Your odds of success are greater when you channel your energy into changing just one aspect of your behaviour.
- Be specific. Think through exactly what you’re going to do and how. Vague plans fail, says Wiseman. So if you resolved to “lose weight”, consider exactly what changes you need to make in eating habits and exercise in order to achieve that. If you plan to “go to the gym”, tell yourself that you’ll do it on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work.
- Plan ahead. You don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve to make your resolution. In fact, you shouldn’t. Last minute decisions tend to be based on what’s on your mind at that time. Take time to reflect on what you really want to achieve. Your resolution can start any time.
- Avoid previous resolutions. That just sets you up for frustration and disappointment. Choose something new, or approach an old problem in a new way.
Consider gender differences
Wiseman found a key difference in what helps men and women to keep their resolutions.
- Men were significantly more likely to succeed when engaged in “bite-size” goal setting (e.g., aiming to lose a pound a week instead of trying to lose weight in general) or focused on the rewards associated with their goal (e.g., being more attractive to women). “Men may be more likely to have unrealistic expectations, so goal setting helps them to achieve more,” notes Wiseman.
- Women, in contrast, were more successful if they told others about their resolution or were encouraged not to give up because they had reverted to old habits (i.e., they treat a chocolate binge as a temporary setback rather than as all-out failure). Says Wiseman, “Women benefit more from the support provided by friends and family once they have made their goals public.”