Well Being

Do Ask, Do Tell: Why Secret Resolutions Are A Bad Idea

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resolutions and goalsMSNBC's Today Health ran an article saying that the best way to stick to resolutions is to keep them secret; apparently, psychologists have found that all the kudos you get from friends and family when you announce your goal could be so satisfying that you forget to follow up on your goal. But here's the thing: Keeping big goals a secret isn't just impractical; it's basically the opposite of all the expert advice I've ever heard when it comes to taking on new fitness goals.

Today sites several researchers who say that announcing your goals is akin to resolution suicide:

Psychologists call it “social reality” — those social rewards that essentially trick the brain into thinking what you intended to do has pretty much already been done. In 1928, Russian psychologist Mary Ovsiankina demonstrated that we can swap our initial goal for another, and we'll still feel like we did what we set out to do — as long as the substitute goal was witnessed by other people. And in 2009, New York University professor Peter Gollwitzer published a follow-up study to his 1982 book on the same topic: that talking a big game about our future plans makes us less likely to take action.

They say that if you blast your resolution out on Facebook and Twitter to the cheer of your friends and followers, you'll likely feel so satisfied with the positive feedback that you won't get going on your goals at all.

So maybe seeking positive reinforcement without taking any real steps isn't a good way to go, but keeping your new health and fitness goals a secret isn't any better idea, if you ask me. Some resolutions might be personal in nature (I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to keep “find a new job and tell my boss to fuck himself” off your social networks), but exercising more, eating differently, or training for a major athletic goal is a pretty big game-changer for you and the people around you.

Your friends won't take kindly to your backing out of brunch plans every weekend for mysterious reasons; they'll be a lot more understanding if you tell them you'll be busy with your marathon training program. And beyond pure practicalities, you're more likely to get everyone's support if you let them know what you're doing…and that you need help.

Tim Ferris, author of 4-Hour Body, points out some of the reasons a secret goal won't hold:

We break commitments to ourselves with embarrassing regularity. How can someone trying to lose weight binge on an entire pint of ice cream before bed? How can event he most disciplined of executives fail to make 30 minutes of time per week for exercise? How can someone whose marriage depends on quitting smoking pick up a cigarette?

Simple: logic fails.

In order to “failure-proof” against the aforementioned scenarios, Ferris recommends four types of “insurance”:

1. Make it conscious.
2. Make it a game.
3. Make it comprehensive.
4. Make it small and temporary.

Some of his specific tips involve taking photos and specific measurements (to make it conscious and make it a game), but his third insurance against failure involves sharing your goal with others–but not just by tweeting out your new weight loss goals. He says that you should find another person or group of people with similar goals, and turn your progress into a friendly competition:

…in a group, some people will do worse thn you (“Sarah lost only one pound–good for me!) and others will do better (“Mike's nothing special. If he can do it, so can I.”). Seeing inferior performers makes you proud of even minor progress, and superior performers in your peer group make greater results seem achievable…Embrace peer pressure. It's not just for kids.

And the New Year might be the easiest time of year to make this happen. Find out which of your friends are making resolutions this year, and even if they're not the same, find a way to measure your progress and check in with each other each week to see who's doing best. Even if you're training for a marathon while your friends are trying to get more sleep, if you all find ways of measuring your success, you'll be able to compare notes, which sounds a lot more fun than ducking out of drinks because you secretly need to make it to the gym.

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