Science Can Help You Stick to Your New Year's Resolutions

Could this be the year you actually make good on your New Year’s resolutions? These science-backed suggestions may help you hone your approach and stick to your goals.

Photo by: Thomas Vogel ©Thomas Vogel

Thomas Vogel, Thomas Vogel

You start each year full of fresh hope, earnestly convinced that, no matter what happened last year, this year you'll surely stick to your list of resolutions. This is the year you'll really adhere to your goals of exercising regularly, eating more healthfully, losing those spare pounds, cutting back on those bad habits, getting your life on track, making an impact. This year, unlike last year and the year before, you won't begin to feel your commitment to those goals slowly, incrementally, erode until — wait, um … what were those goals again?

In fact, this really could be your year. New research into the psychology of setting goals and finding the willpower to stick with them may help you find a new approach and a way to make 2015 the year you really do accomplish the things you set out to do.

Time magazine health writer Mandy Oaklander recently shared several unusual science-backed psychological tricks you can use on yourself to make your resolutions stick. She suggests having a solid plan, which can help prevent procrastination, and not having a plan B, which can wreak havoc on our sense of commitment. Oaklander also advises you to choose your resolutions carefully, as studies have shown that if we summon the willpower to resist one temptation, we may more easily give in to another one. Breaking large, daunting resolutions up into smaller, more achievable goals can also increase our chances of success.

Among her other suggestions:
Tinker with the timing.

Forget starting that new diet or regime on January 1. Instead, kick it off on a Monday. That’s because, while few of us actually hold fast to our New Year’s resolutions all year long and many of us don’t even make it to February,  those of us who start on a Monday, when we have a whole fresh week to realize our goals ahead of us, may have a better rate of success. What's more, one recent study found, we tend to be more focused on our health early in the workweek; Google searches for health-related topics peak on Monday and Tuesday and then decline all week long, sharply dropping off on Saturday and then bouncing back again on Monday.

"These findings show that healthy thinking and behavior is synced to the week, with Monday being the day we're most likely to start healthy," study co-author Morgan Johnson recently told The Atlantic. "This suggests that people see the new week much like a new beginning — a January 1st that happens every seven days."

Sid Lerner, who founded the Monday Campaigns, a public health project to encourage people to associate Monday with healthy behaviors ( the group behind the Meatless Monday initiative, put it this way: "If you believe that you can only change on January 1st — the inherent message of New Year's resolutions — you will have to wait a whole year before you get another shot. When you associate getting healthy with Monday, you have 52 cues every year to take action."

Focus on a “round number.”

If we set ourselves measurable goals and those goals include a round number, we may work harder to meet them. A University of Chicago [ study of marathon runners found that people tend to cluster their finishing time around round numbers — speeding up to complete a four-minute mile. So if you round your goals up or down accordingly, you may be more motivated to achieve them.

Put your money where your mouth is.

Studies have shown that people who got money or other perks for losing weight — and risk losing money if they fail to meet their goals – have a higher chance of succeeding. Several websites — like Diet Bet, Healthy Wage and StickK — offer rewards for meeting your health goals or financial penalties for missing them.

"Financial incentives work because of the immediate positive feedback they offer, whereas the other perks of physical activity — health, longevity, a more attractive appearance — are usually delayed," the author of one such study, Marc Mitchell, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, told Prevention magazine.

Here's wishing you good luck — and steady resolve — in 2015!

Photo: iStock.com, Thomas Vogel.

Amy Reiter also contributes to FN Dish.
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