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How to keep your New Year's resolutions, according to science

Don't rely on willpower - it won't work.

SIGNE DEAN
28 DEC 2015
 

Learn Spanish? Finally quit smoking? Become a better cook? Whatever you've decided to achieve next year, you know all too well that you're probably going to fail, and that list of beautiful, aspirational goals is staying unfulfilled. Sorry.

For this very reason some people forgo making any resolutions altogether, so we're here to help - this year you might actually have a chance, with help from a few tricks of the mind.

 

British psychologist Richard Wiseman has done several surveys on willpower - in 2007 he tracked the success of 3,000 people's New Year's resolutions, only to find that a mere 12 percent of them managed to achieve what they had set out to do. He looked into what the successful people were doing differently, and, based on their experience, devised a list of tips for others who want to stop failing miserably.

Before we get into the list, it turns out the number one thing to stop relying on is your own willpower - that's basically the worst approach to keeping a resolution, and is the reason why so many of us never start exercising more, continue eating all that fried chicken, and still can't speak a word of French.

What should you be doing instead? As Wiseman explained on his blog back in 2013, your goals should be small and manageable, you should document your success, tell others about your intentions, and, importantly, not beat yourself up for failing. Here’s the complete list of Wiseman’s advice:

1) If possible, make only one resolution - changing a lot of things at once is more difficult.

2) Think about your resolutions in advance, and spend some time to reflect on them.

3) Don’t re-visit past failures, but focus on new resolutions instead.

4) Focus on what you really want - don’t just go with what’s trendy.

5) Break your goal into manageable, concrete steps with specific deadlines.

6) Go public - tell your friends, family, social networks about your goals, which will increase your fear of failure and also garner support.

7) Create a checklist focusing on how much better your life will be once you’ve achieved your goals.

8) Whenever you make progress on the steps towards your goal, give yourself a small reward.

9) Document your journey - charts, spreadsheets, journals and other means of tracking your progress will keep it concrete.

10) Don’t beat yourself up and quit if you sometimes revert to old habits - treat it as a temporary setback. 

Learn the five most important tips below, and good luck in 2016!

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