The Science-Backed Trick To Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

PHOTOGRAPHED BY DAVID BRANDON GEETING
As we round out 2015, it's easy to feel daunted if you've already committed to New Year's resolutions — no judgements here if you've opted not to. But a new study suggests there's a simple trick that could make fulfilling resolutions a bit easier: Don't tell yourself you'll do something; ask yourself.

For the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers analyzed findings from 104 past studies, all of which looked at the "question-behavior effect" — or, how answering a question about a specific behavior influences whether or not you'll engage in that behavior. The studies spanned 40 years and included over 2 million participants.

The researchers found an interesting trend: The likelihood a person would perform a certain task increased when they were asked about it. This effect was even stronger if the questions required simple "yes" or "no" answers; if they didn't involve specific time frames; and if the questions encouraged "behavior with personal and socially accepted norms, such as eating healthy foods or volunteering," said Eric R. Spangenberg, a co-author of the study, in a press release.

According to the researchers, you're much more likely to influence behavior using questions, rather than statements. Instead of proclaiming, "I will make my apartment into a Marie Kondo-like temple in 2016," try asking yourself, "Will I organize and declutter my messy apartment next year?" — to which you'll respond to yourself, "yes."

The researchers have a guess as to why questions might be powerful motivators. Questions may trigger a psychological response by prompting people to remember why something's important, while also making them feel guilty if they don't follow through with the behavior in question. In a desire to "alleviate cognitive discomfort," people actually start that new exercise regimen, or give up precious weekend hours to volunteer, or fulfill whatever resolutions they optimistically committed to during the holidays.

The benefits of questioning were shown to last for at least six months, which means the 44% of Americans likely to make New Year's resolutions might be going strong well into June (when most people have basically given up, according to past research).

So, as you prepare to ring in the new year, you probably only need to worry about locking down those New Year's Eve dinner reservations — it might be best to leave your resolutions hanging.

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