Betting to be Better: Making and Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions

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Betting to be Better: Making and Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions

Beth Fitzjarrald · Jan 17, 2017

blank list resolutions

It’s that time of year again. Nope, I don’t mean time for the annual Fruit Cake Toss. It’s time to make your New Year’s Resolutions. But for far too many people, it’s also almost time to break those same resolutions. Forbes research found that only about eight percent of people actually stick to their commitments each year. Want to be one of those super-resolvers? Well go find your roommate, partner, or neighbor, and read on!

Only once in my life have I actually been able to keep my New Year’s resolution. How did I do it? I started with the basics—maybe you’ve heard these before. Keep your goals small and doable. For my part, I had resolved to go running at least twice a week. I already ran somewhat regularly, so I had the right gear, I knew where to go, and I was in reasonably good shape to make it through a run. My bar for success was low—I only had to get out twice a week, and I counted ANY run. Even if it was only 10 minutes. But even those basics hadn’t gotten me very far in the past, so after starting there, I dug a bit deeper.

I went to my roommate. I needed someone who knew me well—someone who could tell if I was slacking off and would be willing to call me out on it. And it had to be someone who saw me pretty much every day. Roommates make the perfect resolution partners!

We each had a resolution: she was going to save money by cooking at home, and I was going to run. We agreed to help hold each other accountable, but you can do this with someone who will just help you, even if they’re not resolving anything themselves. Just making a commitment out loud to another person can be a HUGE help in sticking to your goals.

But, there are still ways to be even more committed. In the past, when reading up on why people do what they do, behavioral psychology, I heard about a neat trick: betting against yourself. Yes, that’s right. Make a bet against yourself.

Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study about this very thing. They worked with groups of people who were trying to quit smoking. Some were simply offered a reward for stopping ($800), while others had to pay their own money ($150) at the start and would lose that money if they failed, but get it all back plus a reward of $650 if they succeeded in stopping. The result? Even though the reward was smaller, the people risking their own money ended up being three times more likely to achieve their goals and stop smoking!

My roommate and I did something similar. We decided together on an amount that seemed like a lot—for us, $100. We each put aside the money and agreed that if we failed at keeping our resolution, we would lose it. But if we stuck with it for the whole year, we’d get the money back. No reward, just avoiding loss.

We also worked to agree on what to do with the money if we lost. Like, would it go to the other roommate? We decided against that because we’d just each try to make the other lose so we could gain. The money had to go somewhere else, so we came up with the idea that if we lost our bet by flaking out on our resolutions, we would donate our $100 to charity. That still presented its own problem: it wouldn’t see so bad lose that money to a great charity. It wasn’t much of an extra motivator. So for the final rule to this bet, we decided we would have to donate our money to a cause we hated. We each thought hard about what really made us cringe, and shook hands on it. If I didn’t keep my resolution, I would send a sizeable (for me) donation to a political candidate I absolutely detested. My roommate agreed to do the same, with a cause equally as appalling to her. Every time I was sitting on the couch, about to start another episode on Netflix, I remembered that politician and jumped up to get my running shoes. Sure enough, the image of my money helping a horrible cause was enough to keep me going.

This can work for anyone! Go find your roommate, siblings, parents, spouse, or a trusted, close co-worker. Ask them what they’ve resolved this year, and ask if they really want to make it happen. You’ll be amazed at what you can do!

Want more help sticking to your new resolutions? Check out my previous article, Recharging Your Resolution, which covers lots of great ideas like asking your partner to hide your chocolate, or setting your couch at a new angle. Sounds crazy, but it all helps by resetting our mental triggers to stop a bad habit or start a new good one.

Have you kept your new year’s resolution? Tell us your favorite tips for sticking with it!

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