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Don’t Talk About Your New Year’s Resolutions

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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This statue at Notre-Dame de la Garde says "shush!"

As I read the funny pages this morning in the paper, I noticed a running joke: no one keeps their New Year’s resolutions. There are a million different personal and psychological reasons for this–but you can use SCIENCE to better understand why you fail, and how to get better at achieving your goals.

The tip I’ve learn that’s helped me the most is to NOT TELL ANYONE about what you want to do, at least not point-blank. The act of announcing what you aim to do to friends and family–and hearing their approval–provides similar satisfaction to achieving the goal, giving you a “premature sense of completeness,” as noted in a 2009 study (PDF). And with your self-satisfaction meter already half-full before you start, the motivation to work hard is sapped. Essentially, proclaiming your goals at a New Year’s party can undermine your own efforts from the get-go.

It’s this tip that actually brought me back from the blogging dead. Over and over I told my friends, family, and editor that I was going to get back into blogging, all to no avail. It wasn’t until I laid out a plan for myself–start organizing papers, planning themes, taking notes–and told it to Bora, lord of the blogs, that I was able to actually start blogging again. I didn’t share the goal explicitly: instead I shared the steps I would take, thus delaying my own sense of achievement.

So on December 31st, hold back from sharing your endgoals. If you have to talk, talk about the steps you’ll take to achieve it.

This, of course, isn’t the only insight from psychology that you can use to set and achieve goals, break bad habits, or instill good ones. Eric Barker of the blog Barking up the Wrong Tree has a great summary of science-based tips for self-improvement.

Happy New Year!

(video of Australian green tree frogs via Gunshop)

Photo Credit: Statue at Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille, France on Wikimedia Commons

Hannah Waters About the Author: Hannah Waters writes about natural history and the way people think about nature. She lives and works in Philadelphia, PA, but really on the internet. Follow on Twitter @hannahjwaters.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Sedona 5:44 pm 12/30/2012

    Great post, and I couldn’t personally agree with you more regarding not sharing resolutions! However, science is often not agreed upon, as ironically I just read in another news magazine how people are more accountable when they share their resolutions with others. If there were one thing everyone agreed on, it would be most unusual! The single best thing I did to stick to my resolutions was triggered by something I read on the site of my current mentor, and why I hired them last year ( It said ‘The definition you’ve placed on yourself – or have allowed others to place on you – is precisely why you have what you have, do what you do, are what you are and act how you act.’ I realized I had not been breaking habits because I had not been changing the definition of myself required in order to make the change! Still, I couldn’t agree with you more, regarding keeping resolutions to myself. I have felt foolish on more occasions than I care to share, not following through. Happy 2013 to all!!

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  2. 2. Bora Zivkovic 7:37 pm 12/30/2012

    I, for one, am happy you are back from the blogging dead ;-)

    My strategy is not to tell my resolutions in public, but to tell it to one person, someone special, someone who I’ll be very ashamed to disappoint if I don’t keep my resolutions, perhaps someone I can ask to occasionally ask me, bug me about it, keep my feet to the fire.

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  3. 3. paynie 5:29 am 12/31/2012

    Nice post, I’ll keep typed lipped this year. One question though, would writing it down make a difference, would that give you that same false satisfaction?

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  4. 4. opposablethumbs 10:48 am 12/31/2012

    @HW: Am I in error if one of my New Year’s resolution is to vow to not talk about my New Year’s resolutions?

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  5. 5. hanjeanwat 11:41 am 12/31/2012

    @Sedona – The study I linked to noted that most people believe that you should share so you are held accountable — but most people aren’t going to push you! So, as @Bora said, that method only really works if that person really is going to hold you to your resolution.

    @Bora ;)

    @paynie It depends how you write about it! According to the post at Barking up the Wrong Tree that I linked to above, writing it down can definitely help motivate you. But you don’t want to fantasize about what it will be like once the goal is completed, but rather work out the details of how you’ll get it done.

    @opposablethumbs Well then you wouldn’t be talking about them in the first place, right?

    Thanks all for reading & commenting! Happy New Year

    - Hannah

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  6. 6. murphyod 12:43 pm 12/31/2012

    Great post! =) !! And I have always loved your blog articles. I too found myself in a blog roadblock recently and read somewhere that you don’t have to write to perfection (which is probably what I was trying to do), you just have to WRITE (period). Write the good, write the bad, write the in-between, just get that (virtual) ink flowing!

    Best wishes to you and more blogging in 2013! =) Happy New Year!

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  7. 7. fotoblogger 8:36 am 01/1/2013

    Great post, Hannah, and couldn’t agree more. I make daily resolutions each morning and share with no one. If you need to share your goals in order to accomplish them, are your truly motivated?

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