How To Actually Keep New Year’s Resolutions, According To A Behavioral Scientist
If you plan on becoming a better person in 2015 by exercising more, eating less, or learning a new language, you’re going to need a whole lot more than just good intentions to get you there.
Here’s a little psychological experiment that just might help you stick to your goals.
So, in 2019 we’re all going to go to the gym more regularly, eat better, earn more, and read twice as many books, right?
Wrong – for the majority of us anyway. If you want a good indication for what you’ll be doing in 2019, your best bet is to look at what you did in 2018.
Studies have shown that good intentions alone will only prompt a change in behavior 20 to 30 percent of the time.
In the vast majority of cases, something a little more concrete is going to have to come into play if you want to make a meaningful change to your habits.
So, surprise, surprise, it takes a whole lot more effort to stick to your new year’s resolutions than just writing them down in a fancy list.
And even more discouraging – research has shown that the better we feel about our new year’s resolutions and our ability to stick with them, the less likely we actually will.
But, as Stephen J. Meyer writes at Forbes, it’s not hopeless:
“I’d be a hardened pessimist if not for one thing – there’s a magic bullet that can bridge the gap between goal intentions and goal accomplishment.”
“It’s what behavioural psychologists call “implementation intentions.” Ugly phrase, I know. But it could be the difference between achieving your goals in 2015 and failing miserably.”
So what exactly is this “implementation intentions” concept?
Back in 2002, researchers in the UK gathered together a group of volunteers who had set themselves the goal of taking up regular exercising. The volunteers were split into three groups.
The first group, called the “motivational intervention group”, was given educational materials showing that exercise does amazing things for your cardio-vascular health.
The second group was asked to plan and write down their “implementation intentions”.
For example, exactly where, when, what, they were going to do for exercise, and how frequently, and for how long, each session.
The control group was left to their own with no help from the researchers.
Amazingly, 91 percent of Group 2, who actually thought about and wrote down all the details of their plan, ended up exercising.
According to Meyer, just 29 percent of the control group and 39 percent of the group who learned extensively about the benefits of exercise ended up actually doing it.
So implementation intentions are essentially about fooling ourselves into doing something – you consciously formulate a plan, and then unconsciously execute it.
Gollwitzer mentioned a study in which students were asked to write a paper during the Christmas break.
Of the group that wrote down their implementation intentions – when and where they intended to write their paper – two-thirds of them actually did it.
Exactly zero students who didn’t write their implementation intentions got around to writing the paper.
Apparently similar results can be seen in people trying to lose weight.
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