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Resolving for a Better New Year

December 29, 2010

Brit Trogen

Science in Seconds Brit Trogen

Soon we will ring in the new year with popping corks, confetti, and promises of self-improvement. Of course, most of us promptly fail to follow through on those promises, and vow to do better next year. But there are a few psychological tricks you can use this time around to give yourself an edge, if you want to use your YMCA membership more than twice.

Dieting is one of the most common resolutions, and according to cognitive scientists at Indiana University and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, the success rate of those attempting to cut calories is based on more than just willpower. If you want to pick a diet that works, keep it simple. By interviewing 390 dieting women, the researchers found that diet plans that were more complex—involving calorie counting, point values and tracking meals—were more likely to be dropped sooner, whereas simpler diets stuck. The standard environmental factors were also noted; keeping snack foods out of sight, etc. But this evidence of the failure of complex plans (Weight Watchers was used as an example) relative to simpler options is something we don't hear often enough.

Should you try the eggplant-cranberry cleanse with the twice-a-day lemon juice mouthwash rinse that includes a three pound binder on how to track your progress over the month? Probably not.

The University of Washington's Addictive Behaviors Research Center has some other tips, though most of them aren't overly mind-boggling. According to director G. Alan Marlatt, people making more than three resolutions are more likely to break them, though pairing up complementary resolutions - like exercising and eating less junk food - is likely to lead to double the rewards, and an increased chance that you'll continue with both.

People are also more likely to drop resolutions that require them to stop something (smoking, junk food, etc), than they are at those requiring them to pick up something new (exercise, lion taming, etc.), because a single slip up will effectively mean the resolution has been broken. His advice? Even if you slip up once, with a single cigarette or trip to McD's, don't give up. Get back on the wagon as soon as possible, keeping a diary of your efforts and telling your friends to help keep you on track.

Of course, my personal advice is to pick a resolution like "be awesome," so that every year you can be the only one of your friends who actually keeps it. But to each his own. Happy new year!

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