How To Keep Your New Year's Resolution, According To Scientists: Start Small, Plan, Seek Support

 @rpalmerscience
on January 03 2013 4:18 PM

Now that the champagne has been finished and the party wrapped up, it's time to get down to the business of actually living through the New Year. You may have high hopes that 2013 will be transformative -- the year that you quit smoking, lose 100 pounds and finally finish that screenplay. But what are the odds that you’ll actually follow through on your resolutions?

The No. 1 strategy for maintaining your resolve throughout the long slog of the year is to take baby steps, according to the American Psychological Association, or APA.“Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on Jan. 1, can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” psychologist Lynn Bufka said in an interview with the APA. “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”

Making small changes at first can be the key to success. Instead of swearing to exercise every day or immediately go on a crash diet, try exercising a few times per week or replacing a dessert with a healthier treat, like fruit, the APA recommends.

Resolvers shouldn’t try and change a bunch of things about themselves at once and should consider joining a support group or talking with friends to share their experiences, psychologists say.

In 2007, Bristol University psychologist Richard Wiseman surveyed more than 3,000 people about their New Year’s resolutions and found that 88 percent of them ended up failing. Wiseman, like the APA, recommends that people make just one resolution and to seek out support. He also recommends that you really think about what you want out of life -- there’s no reason that your resolution should be one of the usual ones about exercise or dieting.

You should also break down your goal into a series of steps, with little milestones along the way. Wiseman recommends tracking your progress through a journal or spreadsheet and rewarding yourself when you hit these subgoals.

“Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time,” Wiseman wrote on Tuesday. “Treat any failure as a temporary setback rather than a reason to give up altogether.”

One study published in 2002 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology suggests that the act of making a New Year's resolution can strengthen a person’s resolve. For six months, researchers from the University of Scranton followed 159 people that made a New Year’s resolution and 123 people looking to make a lifestyle change that did not make a resolution.

Through telephone interviews, the resolvers reported higher rates of success than the nonresolvers -- after six months, 46 percent of the resolvers were maintaining their success, while only 4 percent of the nonresolvers found themselves sticking to their goal.

However, the scientists found that “self-efficacy, skills to change and readiness to change assessed before Jan. 1 all predicted positive outcome for resolvers. “In other words, the resolution itself was not the sole factor in success. Setting a goal is just the first step to attaining the goal; only if a person is truly willing to put in the effort will they stick to it throughout the year.

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