A formula for the perfect New Year’s resolution has been devised by a leading psychologist. Prof Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, says his technique can greatly boost people’s chances of succeeding in their pledges. But he claims men and women must follow different rules to stick by their decisions to change their lives.
Prof Wiseman tracked the resolutions of more than 3,000 people – some 60 per cent from the UK and 40 per cent from the US – as they attempted to stick to their resolutions on Jan 1 this year.
He found only 12 per cent were successful, with three-quarters of those who vowed to stub out their last cigarette at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve sparking up again.
Of those who pledged to lose weight, only 28 per cent succeeded in avoiding the temptation to crash out on the sofa.
Surprisingly, these resolutions were easier to achieve than obtaining a new qualification or "being a better person".
The pledge with the most chance of success was to "enjoy life more", probably because it is so vague and subjective, according to Prof Wiseman.
He developed advice on how to do better because the participants were asked to try one of four different methods.
Prof Wiseman analysed the data to find out what more could be done to improve the low success rate of most resolutions.
Men were significantly more likely to succeed when they had been asked to set a goal for themselves: for example, instead of trying to lose weight, say by shedding a pound each week, they were told to focus on a measure of success, such as becoming more attractive to women.
Women were more successful when they told their friends and family about their resolution, or were encouraged to be especially resilient and not to give up because they had reverted to the old habits: for example, if dieting, treating a chocolate binge as a temporary setback rather than as failure.
These simple approaches often had surprisingly large effects when it came to success. An extra 22 per cent of men achieved their resolution when they set goals, while women were about 10 per cent more likely to succeed when they were encouraged to persist in the face of setbacks.
"Men may be more likely to adopt a macho attitude and have unrealistic expectations, and so simple goal setting helps them achieve more", Prof Wiseman said.
"Likewise, women might be reluctant to tell others about their resolutions, and so benefit more from the social support provided by friends and family once they have made their goals public".
Prof Wiseman is starting another year-long study into the topic, and people can register for his new experiment at www.newyearscience.co.uk as part of a wider effort to understand how to break bad habits.
General tips for success
• Make only one resolution. The chances of success are greater when people channel their energy into changing just one aspect of their behaviour.
• Plan ahead. Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to make an on the spur of the moment resolution. Instead, take some time to reflect upon what you really want to achieve.
• Avoid repeating previous resolutions, which can set you up for frustration and disappointment. Choose something new, or approach an old problem in a new way.
• Be specific. Think through exactly what you are going to do, where you are going to do it, and at what time. Vague plans fail.
• Make it personal. Think about what you really want out of life, such as finishing that novel, or learning to play an instrument, rather than just losing weight and getting to the gym.
Tips for men
• Focus on creating goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based (SMART), says Prof Wiseman.
For example, instead of thinking "I want to find a new job" focus on creating bite-sized, measurable goals for each week, such as rewriting your CV and then applying for one new job every two weeks.
Map out the step-by-step mini-goals that will slowly but surely take you to where you want to be, make a note of them in a diary, and stick to the plan.
• Focus on how much better life will be for you, and those around you, when you achieve your resolution. For example, if you want to quit smoking, make a list of the benefits of giving up, and place it somewhere prominent in your house.
If you want to motivate yourself to go to the gym, find a photograph of a fitness model that appeals to you, and put it in a place where you will see it each day.
Tips for women
• Women who keep their New Year’s resolution to themselves make it too easy to forget. Instead, go public.
For example, write down your resolution on a large sheet of paper, sign it, and place it somewhere prominent in your house. Tell your friends, family and colleagues and ask them to provide you with helpful nudges to assist you in achieving your goal.
• Be persistent. New habits take time to learn, and once in a while you will slip up. People on diets might suddenly give in to temptation, or those trying to exercise more might not find the time to go to the gym for a week.
Remember that everyone messes up from time to time. Don’t blame yourself if you falter, or allow the experience to make you give up.
Via the Telegraph