The Seven Rules Of New Year’s Resolutions


In a rush? Read the cliff notes – just the headlines and the parts in grey

The first rule of New Year’s Resolutions is …

#1: You Do Not Talk About New Year’s Resolutions

According to a recent study, announcing your your goals publicly can make you less likely to actually do the hard work to follow through on your intentions.

The Experiment:   A group of students rated a series of statements from “definitely yes” to “definitely no”— statements like: “I intend to make the best possible use of educational opportunities in law.”

He then had them do one of two things: either

  1. Drop the questionnaire anonymously into a box (keeping the intention private), OR
  2. Go over their answers with an experimenter (publicly discussing their intentions).

The researchers then measured the students’ actual effort by asking them to participate in some complex legal analysis.

The Results: The surveys showed all of the law students were highly committed to a career in law, but those who kept their surveys private stayed at the task longer than those who had publicly discussed their intentions.

The second rule of New Year’s Resolutions is …

#2: You DO NOT Talk About New Year’s Resolutions

According to the same study by Gollwitzer, publicly announcing your intentions can also lead to a falsely inflated self image, which in turn can lead to not working as hard towards your goals.

The Experiment:  Students wrote out three specific things they intended to do to help them become successful attorneys. such as “I intend to read law periodicals regularly.”

The students were once again divided into two groups:

  1. One group shared their intentions with other law students
  2. The second group did not.

Then they took a test that unconsciously self evaluates how complete you feel.

They were shown five photographs of a Supreme Court justice, varying in size from quite small to large, and they were asked: “How much do you feel like a jurist right now?”

This procedure has been tested, and shown to reflect that the more complete a subject feels, the larger the picture they will pick.

The Results:  People who had publicly announced their intentions tended to select larger images, consistent with a larger self-image. Stating their intentions made the subjects feel like more complete, and this inflated self-image can lead to being less hard working.

The third rule of New Year’s Resolutions is …

#3: One Resolution At A Time

According to multiple studies, willpower is a limited resource that you can drain. When you try to do too many things at once, this drains your willpower – and this leads to you failing at all your resolutions. Better to start with just one.

Finger_hand_index_point_singleOne of the interesting things I discovered in my research about how to improve will power was that your willpower is a limited resource. One specific research study I mention in that article by Muraven illustrates why this is important

The Experiment:  Subjects were divided into three groups and told to write down their thoughts.

  1. One group was told to think about a white bear and express their thoughts
  2. A second group was told NOT to think about a white bear (suppress their thoughts)
  3. A third group was given no specific instructions as to what to think about.

In addition, the first two groups were instructed to put a check mark in the margin every time they thought about a white bear.

Following this, all three groups had willpower tested for solving puzzles, and told they could stop whenever they wanted.

The Results:  The group that were told to suppress their thoughts of a white bear (exercise willpower) fared the worst on the second part of the experiment.  The group that did not have to exercise their self-discipline and was free to express their thoughts performed 53% better.

The fourth rule of New Year’s Resolutions is …

#4: Write Down Your Resolutions

According to a recent study, people who write down their goals are far more likely to achieve them. That’s not all though – read on for more findings from the study

When I previously discussed whether the Harvard written goals study was a myth, I came across another study by Gail Matthews that did show the value of written goals.   I invite you to read the prior article for a full discussion, but very briefly:

The Experiment:  149 subjects were divided into groups, some of which wrote down their goals and some didn’t.

At the end of four weeks, subjects were asked to rate their progress and the degree to which they accomplished their goals.

The Results:  Goal achievement was 52% higher when people wrote down their goals.

The fifth rule of New Year’s Resolutions  …

#5: Commit Your Resolutions To A Friend

In the same study discussed previously by Matthews, it was shown that committing your goals to a supportive friend increases your chances of success

The experiment included other groups which further divided the group that wrote down their goals.

The Experiment:

  1. One group merely wrote down their goals
  2. Another group was asked to formulate action commitments.
  3. A third group wrote down their goals, formulated action commitments and sent their commitments to a supportive friend.

The Results:  The group that wrote out action commitments and sent their commitments to a supportive friend outperformed both these other groups, by approximately 5%.  However, the true power of having supportive friends becomes clear when you consider the next rule.

The sixth rule of New Year’s Resolutions is …

#6: Have Your Friends Keep You Accountable

In the same study discussed previously by Matthews, it was shown that best of all is not just committing your goals to a friend – but also holding a weekly review where your friend holds you accountable.

The Experiment: In the same study discussed previously by Gail Matthews, the experiment included another group – this one wrote down their goals, sent action commitments to a supportive friend and provided their friend with weekly progress reports.

We can compare this group with the group that did all the same actions except for the weekly progress reports.

The Results:  The group which combined all these strategies and provided their weekly progress fared 18% better  than the group that did not send weekly progress reports.

The last rule of New Year’s Resolutions is …

#7: If You Are Serious About Making The Change, You Have to Make New Year’s Resolutions

A study conducted in 2002 asked subjects whether they made New Year’s resolutions or not. Those who made actual resolutions were far, far more likely to stick to them.

The Experiment: Subjects were divided into two groups –

  1. 159 who set Near Year’s resolutions and resolved to make a change
  2. 123 individuals who had similar goals to the first group, but did not resolve to make the changes.
  3. The researchers then followed up via telephone for six months to see how the subjects fared.

The Results: After 6 months, those who set a resolution were 10 times more likely to stick to their goals than the non setters (46% versus 4%).

So if you want to make any new changes in your life this year, you absolutely should resolve to make the change.

Make This Year Your Best Year

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