Tuesday, January 1, 2013

To tell or not to tell: The resolution dilema

Happy New Year!

With the start of the new year comes resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, drink less, or spend more time with family. For the first few weeks of the year gyms will be full, healthy food will be on the shelves, and treadmills will be sold. In about a month, though, space in the gym will open up, junk food will return, and the treadmill you just bought will become a coat hanger. It happens every year and we all know it.

There are plenty of tips online for keeping those resolutions. In the article just linked to, Richard Wiseman gives some great tips, and I suggest you read his article if you are really serious about your goal. One tip you're certain to hear in almost every "Keep your resolutions" article is to tell everyone. A recent meta-analysis on behavior changing techniques even shows that feeling socially committed to a goal is an important step in changing behavior.

This advice rings true - if you tell someone about your resolution you'll feel pressured (by yourself or by them) to keep it.  For some resolutions, though, telling people may be the worst thing you can do. One study found that the simple act of making your goal known is enough to feel like you have completed the goal. Let's say, for example, that you want to run 5 miles every morning. When you tell others of your plan they are happy for you and congratulate you on your goal. Their praise acts as a reward and, feeling rewarded, you no longer are motivated to complete your goal.

Of course, there are times when sharing your resolution is a  great strategy. If you want to quit smoking friends can be a great resource. If you want to eat healthier you may feel guilty eating chocolate around people that know you shouldn't be eating it. The best idea is to personalize your strategy. If you think you'll need social pressure to keep your resolution, tell away. If you know you're likely to be looking for praise, try keeping your resolution to yourself this year.