How To (Actually) Keep Your New Year’s Resolution!

We’ve all done it- came up with a GREAT New Year’s Resolution only to fail or give up on it a couple months in. Well don’t you fret, we have found the science behind ACTUALLY sticking with and accomplishing your New Year’s resolution!


1) Make your goal attainable

Yes, it is more exciting to choose a big target as a New Year’s resolution, to commit to losing 50 pounds or quitting smoking cold turkey. And yes, it is much more boring to commit to losing five pounds in a year, or smoking one less cigarette per day.

But the people who study goal-setting are pretty universal on this point: the more manageable goals are the ones where people actually succeed. And this is pretty intuitive: it’s a lot easier to commit to small-level change than a complete life overhaul.

“When you set weight loss goals, you don’t really know how your body is going to react or what is going to be attainable,” says Lisa Ordonez, a professor at the University of Arizona’s Eller School of Business whose research focuses on goal-setting in organizations. “If you haven’t done it for awhile, you need to do your research and revise your expectation.”

Another benefit of setting attainable goals: you can always up the ante. The person who commits to losing five pounds and succeeds can set another target, to lose a bit more weight. But the person who loses five pounds while committed to shedding 50 pounds, is still eons away from declaring a victory.

2) Know that you will screw up. That’s inevitable, and okay.

A few decades back, Polivy discovered what is arguably one of the best-named psychological phenomena: the “what the hell” effect.

She and her co-workers did a study where she gave dieters milkshakes before serving them a dish of ice cream (why, exactly, people trying to lose weight would sign up for this study is unclear). The milkshakes were of variable sizes; some dieters got big ones, others were tiny.

For dieters, you would think that those who got the larger milkshakes would eat less ice cream — they were, after all, trying to count calories. But Polivy found the opposite: those who had large milkshakes ate even more ice cream. The mentality seemed to be: my diet is already off the wagon, why not screw up a bit more?

“The research has been replicated fairly frequently,” Polivy says. “There seems to be this sense of, well, I ate something I shouldn’t, this day is ruined, I’ll just start again tomorrow, or next week, or next month.”

Of course, not everybody starts again. Sometimes, the screw-up becomes the reason to say to hell with the entire diet. Polivy’s argument is that goals don’t have to work this way: you can acknowledge the mistake and then get back on track. One extra scoop of ice cream isn’t a reason to give up on a weight loss goal altogether.

3) Be very motivated and committed

Behavior change is hard. Really, incredibly hard — that’s why we usually stick to the routines that we have. It’s easier to skip the gym than go; it’s built into our routines to go out drinking with friends on a Friday, rather than skip the calories that come along with one (or five) beers.

Lisa Lahey, a Harvard professor and co-author of the book “Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization,” recommends looking at the concrete steps that will need to happen in order to achieve the changes that you’re looking for. What are the things that will be different about your life, and how can you manage those behaviors?

Take weight loss, for example: one thing that dieters sometimes struggle with is missing out on opportunities to eat with others. And this is a real fear, she says, of becoming disconnected with others as they try and achieve their goals.

Lahey recommends not giving up communal meals altogether but rather testing out how to best manage those situations.

“You don’t have to do the prima donna thing and order grilled chicken when everybody else is eating chicken parmesan,” Lahey says. “You can feel like you belong by eating less of your portion, or maybe just deciding not to have bread. And gradually you learn how to balance.”



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