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Different strategies work for men’s, women’s resolutions

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Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 11:38 pm | Updated: 5:32 pm, Sat Mar 1, 2014.

FAIRBANKS - Every year, almost half (45 percent) of us make New Year’s resolutions. Another 17 percent of us make resolutions some of the time, according to the Statistic Brain website.

Few of us keep them.  

Different strategies suit men and women when it comes to keeping New Year’s resolutions, finds psychologist Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire.

Wiseman traced more than 3,000 people who made New Year’s resolutions. They chose many of the most popular resolutions people make — losing weight, going to the gym, stopping smoking, drinking less.

These are tough resolutions to keep because they are trying to change long-term habits.

But the participants were optimistic. When the study began, more than 50 percent of the people were confident they would succeed in reaching their goals. One year later, only 12 percent had reached their goals.

Surprisingly, different strategies benefited the men versus the women.

Wiseman had randomly divided the 3,000 people into several groups. He asked people in different groups to use different strategies for keeping their New Year’s resolutions.

“Large differences emerged between the approaches that best suited men and women,” he found.

“Men were significantly more likely to succeed when asked to engage in either goal setting (e.g. instead of trying to lose weight in general, aiming to lose a pound each week) or focusing on the rewards associated with their goal (e.g. being more attractive to the opposite sex).

“Women were more successful when they told their friends and family about their resolution or were encouraged to be especially resilient and not to give up because they had reverted to old habits (e.g. if dieting, treating a chocolate binge as a temporary setback rather than as a failure).”

To keep your resolutions, Wiseman advises, follow these four steps:

• Make only one resolution. Most of our resolutions focus on behavior that is difficult to change, such as losing weight. Many studies on self-control find that willpower drops fast when you get physically or mentally tired. Put your energy into keeping just one resolution.

• Come up with a specific action plan.  How do you plan to lose that weight on a day-to-day basis? Are you going to try cutting out desserts, cut calories to 1,800 per day or what? How many times each week are you going to go to the gym? At what time of the day exactly?

• Avoid previous resolutions. If you choose a resolution that you failed to keep before, you’re likely to have pessimistic feelings about your willpower and your chances of success. If you feel you must go back to an old resolution because it’s crucial to your health, like stopping smoking, at least set up a new type of action plan.

• Tailor your action plan to your personality. We need to choose approaches that fit our personalities. Still, it’s interesting to learn that typically different strategies work for men and for women.

For men, having a specific action plan is crucial. If you want to get a better job, for example, set mini-goals, like updating your resume and applying for at least one job each week.  

For women, what usually works best is to make your resolution public instead of keeping it to yourself. Tell your family and friends what you want to achieve and ask them for their help, like encouraging you when you fall off the wagon.

Usually, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but this research has inspired me to try them — that is, try one.   

However, I have a problem: I’m not sure I’m going to succeed in making a resolution even to make a resolution.  

I know my best strategy is to broadcast my resolution to family and friends. What’s keeping me from doing it is the same reason why it works. I’ll be so ashamed if I don’t keep it.

Judith Kleinfeld, a longtime columnist for the Daily News-Miner, holds a doctorate from Harvard and is a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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