Studies show that talking about your resolution may sabotage results

The New Year’s resolution season is upon us. Fitness centers are packed. You see runners on the road at all hours. The organic section of the grocery stores are all sold out. We’re all living up to our promises of getting it together and getting in shape for the New Year. Sound familiar?

Everyone is also talking about their plans. “I just started the Dukan Diet and am going to lose 20 pounds,” or “I just started running again and will be up to 5 miles in a month.” Talking about what you’re going to do seems to be a great motivational tool for people, especially as it relates to getting fit.

But is bragging about what you’re going to do effective?

Believe it or not, many psychological studies show that talking about what you’re going to do for your New Year’s resolution may actually make you LESS likely to achieve your goals and stick with your plan. The problem seems to stem from people’s feeling that intending to do something counts. Plus, let’s be honest, it feels good to hear the old “Good for you!”

There’s even a term for it. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as “Social Reality.” The concept goes back a ways. Famed Russian psychologist Mary Ovsiankina demonstrated all the way back in 1928 that people have the ability to trick their brains into believing that a goal has already been achieved by simply willing the reality into being. She also was able to have her subjects swap out goals for others without any feeling of defeat or remorse.

Peter Gollwitzer published a 2009 follow-up study to his 1982 book entitled “Symbolic Self-Completion.” The New York University (NYU) professor cites from his studies that bragging about your future plans actually makes us less likely to act on these plans. Gollwitzer states that people feel a certain fulfillment from speaking about future actions thus decreasing the actual drive to ‘do the thing.’

The 2009 study was conducted in concert with the NYU professor’s German and UK university colleagues. The study made observations on 63 psychology students. The students were asked if they would study extensive videotaped therapy sessions that would help them to become better psychologists. The students who actively claimed their intention to watch the tapes were far less likely to actually follow through. Not only that, the students who made no claim on their intention to watch the tapes actually watched them for longer and with a greater focus.

Does this mean that you should keep your goals a secret? It might. But then again, it might not. Nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstorm claims, “Many people want credit for just saying they’ll do something. They want credit just for the effort.”

On the other hand, there are many people that actually benefit from announcing their weight loss plans and their New Year’s resolutions. This seems to work in many cases due to the shame and embarrassment of not sticking to your goals.

How do you stay motivated to keep your resolutions? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and various studies show that a whopping 98% of people who go on a diet and lose weight in the short term will gain the weight back in less than 5 years. Worse, 90% gain more weight than they lost in the first place. This is clearly due to a lack of motivation.

The key is to find out what works for you, make your goals attainable and remember that actually doing something matters more than letting people know that you are doing it. It’s more fun to post the ‘After’ pictures to Facebook anyway.

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