Brain and Body

Use This Neurohack to Actually Follow Through With Your New Year’s Resolution

January 5, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

a piece of lined paper and a pen. The word "Resolutions" with a listed below
Photo credit: Photos Public

For real this time…

January 1st: The day we all vow to cut back on the drinking and smoking, start going to the gym again, and actually stick to our diets this time. “New year, new me.”

January 15th: About the time we fall back into our regular routines and bad habits.

Why is it so difficult to stick with our New Year’s resolutions? On January 1st, we’re convinced it will be different this year and that we won’t abandon our goals in a few weeks time like last year (and the year before…).

It turns out that the problem might not be with the goals that you’re setting, but rather the way that you’re setting them.

Instead of telling yourself you’ll go to the gym more, ask yourself, “Will I go to the gym more?” And obviously, answer your question with yes.

SEE ALSO: Having a “Purpose in Life” Linked to Living Longer, Research Finds

It sounds silly, but this neurohack can make all the difference. In a study published last month found that, instead of making a statement, asking questions and answering them plays a key role in determining whether people will stick with their self-promises or not.

The researchers analyzed the results of 104 studies done over a period of about eight years and explored the effect of asking questions in a number of different contexts, like going out to vote or eating healthier. The majority of the studies found that questions tended to impact stronger behavior outcomes than statements did, particularly questions with a yes or no answer.

Perhaps even better than just asking yourself a question is to also letting friends or family members know your goal or New Year’s resolution.

"One of the things people suggest is that maybe you could team up with a friend," Eric Spangenberg, co-author on the paper and professor of marketing and psychology at the University of California, Irvine, told Live Science. "It has the added benefit of making the commitment somewhat public."

Spangenberg speculates that questions are so effective at urging us to follow through with our goals since they create a type of pressure as well as a sense of obligation or guilt that motivates us to change our behaviors. Making the commitment public simply adds to the pressure.

In other good news, turning your resolution into a question isn’t the only factor working in your favor for actually following through with your New Year’s goal. In what scientists call the “fresh start effect,” research has shown that setting a goal at a landmark in the calendar is the most natural time to set new goals and change behaviors.

Researchers from Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania ran five separate experiments to explore the different ways our perception of time can affect our ability to follow through with our goals. According to the paper published in Psychological Science, these “temporal landmarks” are more likely to encourage us to set goals when we feel as though we have a fresh start or new beginning.

"People's strengthened motivation to begin pursuing their aspirations following such temporal landmarks originates in part from the psychological disassociation these landmarks induce from a person's past, imperfect self," the team concluded.

Fittingly, the paper itself is titled Put Your Imperfections Behind You. So the psychology behind setting a new goal on January 1st, the first of the month, or a Monday works by encouraging us to feel as though we’re leaving our imperfect self behind.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 8 percent of people are successful at following through with their resolutions. 49 percent have infrequent success with their goals, and 24 percent fail at achieving their resolution every year.

So perhaps the first question you should ask yourself this year is, “Will I become a part of the 8 percent?” And of course, remember to answer your question with yes.

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