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Goal setting, support from others are keys to successful New Year's resolutions

Hey America, how’s that New Year’s diet coming along?

Less than a week into 2014, there’s a strong possibility that you’ve broken, if not totally given up on, your New Year’s resolution. If that’s the case, don’t feel too bad: According to the University of Scranton, 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, but only eight percent are successful in achieving them.

Blame our brains. In recent years, social scientists have identified a concept called decision fatigue, in which the myriad choices we’re forced to make throughout the day (what to wear, where to go for lunch, what route to take on the way home) drains our willpower. This phenomena is particularly sinister when it comes to one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, weight loss. As the New York Times wrote in an article on decision fatigue:

“[Dieters] start out the day with virtuous intentions, resisting croissants at breakfast and dessert at lunch, but each act of resistance further lowers their willpower. As their willpower weakens late in the day, they need to replenish it. But to resupply that energy, they need to give the body glucose. They’re trapped in a nutritional catch-22:
1. In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.
2. In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.”

The best way to avoid falling into this trap, and successfully achieving your New Year’s resolutions, is to plan out your meals in advance, so that the choices and temptations we’re all faced with are limited, conserving the precious resource of willpower.

In fact, setting goals based around specific behaviors is one of the secrets to a successful resolution, particularly for men. A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman suggested that men were 22 percent more likely to achieve their resolution “when they engaged in goal setting.” Wiseman suggests that men target “S.M.A.R.T. goals,” that is, goals that are “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time based.” He also says that men should take a “carrot not stick” approach, and “Focus on how much better life will be for you, and those around you, when you achieve your resolution.”

For women, success in achieving a New year’s resolution can come down to receiving support from those closest to them. A story posted by The Daily Beast today cites a University of Bath research paper that found “Participants’ motivation to maintain weight loss was further challenged by a lack of support from the immediate social context, i.e. family and friends.” Wiseman says that women who set resolutions should “Tell your friends, family and colleagues about your resolution, and ask them to provide you with helpful nudges to assist you in achieving your goal.” He also says that women in his study often got down on themselves after a slipup like skipping the gym or cheating on their diet, but that they were “almost 10 percent more likely to be successful when encouraged to persist in the face of setbacks.”

“Remember that everyone messes up from time to time,” Wiseman writes. “Don’t blame yourself if you falter, or allow the experience to make you give up.”

And there you have it: the secrets to achieving your New Year’s resolutions. Now you just have to wait 357 more days until 2015 rolls around so you can finally apply them.