The Science of Sticking to New Year Resolutions

By Anupum Pant

Wait a minute. Have you started listing your New Year resolutions four days before the New Year starts? If you are planning on sticking to New Year resolutions this year, simple science says, you probably shouldn’t be making lists now.

Let’s admit it, many among us have made the same resolution for the last 5 years. We are not alone. More than 90% of the people do not succeed in achieving their New year resolutions. But, does that mean there is no point in pledging for something good?
No! of course not. If it is good, it is always good to go ahead. Paying attention to simple science can help you this year.

Hyperbolic Discounting

The first thing to know before applying science to help you stick with your resolutions is the term Hyperbolic Discounting. It states that we show a preference for something that arrives sooner than later. To give you an example, think of these 2 separate choices:

1. You are trying to eat better to lose weight. Salad is good for you but you don’t like it.
Now, I offer you only one of these two things to eat – a box of fries or a bowl of healthy green salad. The catch is that you know that you have to decide now, but you will have to actually eat it on the same day, next month. In this case most people choose, healthy green salad for next month.

2. In a second test, can you guess what happens if I offer you the same choice again and you have to eat it right after you choose and not the next month? You are more likely to say french fries.

Hyperbolic Discounting: We show a preference for something that arrives sooner rather than later. In the second choice, the satisfaction from eating french fries comes instantly. While the good results of a healthy diet is a culmination of your efforts over several months. So, you tend to choose the food item that gives you quick satisfaction. In other words, we need instant gratification.

The best way to illustrate this would be this TED talk where Silvia Barcellos talks about The Marshmallow Test and why we want instant gratification.

Real world example: If you are trying to quit smoking, you must have decided to add it to your list of resolutions for the next year. Later, when your friends ask you out for a New Year’s party, there is a great chance that you’ve already entered 2014 and are still smoking away packs. Technically, you have missed on the first day.
You chose instant satisfaction – partying – over your long-term goal of quitting cigarettes.

To avoid this

To avoid this, it is suggested that you either make lists just before you are going to start doing it. In this case, do it [making list] on Jan 31, 2359 hours. But you’ll be partying at that time. So, you could make lists now and start doing it right away.

In short, do not procrastinate. Things that are far, look smaller from where you stand. Bring your goals nearer to see how big they actually are.

Read more at [You are Not So Smart]

Some other common advice to keep in mind

  • Have just one or two very specific resolutions.
  • Pledge to include tiny habits in your everyday lives. Don’t have huge goals.
  • Use triggers.
  • Communicate your end goals to the greatest number of people you can in your social circle.
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Ben Franklin Effect – Influencing People

By Anupum Pant

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Influencing people

Named after Benjamin Franklin, who observed this effect, the Ben Franklin effect is a lesser known yet interesting Psychological finding that can be used to influence people. According to it:

  1. If we do someone a favor then we tend to like them more. (read till the end for an example of a practical application)
  2. The reverse of this effect is also true – If we harm someone, we are more willing to harm them again as a result.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin:

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

Side note: I love biographies. I love them because, there you have an access to a treasure of life-long experiences of great people. I feel, it is like collecting XP (experience) points in a Pokémon game. The more you manage to collect, the better you do in life. And biographies are one of the most efficient sources for XP.

While going through Ben’s autobiography a few months back, I found a lot of his observations to be extremely interesting and I had noted this down in my notes.

How he used his observation

He was able to befriend a rival legislator by trying this out. The following is an excerpt from his biography:

Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.

Jecker & Lendy published a study in the year 1969 which used 3 groups of students to prove this scientifically. In the study, the students from the first group liked a professor more than the other two groups. It was to this group the professor had asked for a favor.

How can you use it?

  1. If you want someone to like you (or influence someone), even though it may seem counter-intuitive, you could just ask him/her for a favor.
  2. If some random stranger asks you for a favor, you could be a little more cautious about you liking him/her.
  3. To get a better effect, ask a person who is tired.

No wonder, guys after fetching a 100 chocolate ice-cream cups for their girl-friends, only tend to fall more in love with them.