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IT’S still early in 2012, so let’s be optimistic. Let’s assume you have made a New Year’s resolution and have not yet broken it. Based on studies of past resolutions, here are some uplifting predictions:
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Memo to Self: Stop!
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1) Whatever you hope for this year — to lose weight, to exercise more, to spend less money — you’re much more likely to make improvements than someone who hasn’t made a formal resolution.
2) If you can make it through the rest of January, you have a good chance of lasting a lot longer.
3) With a few relatively painless strategies and new digital tools, you can significantly boost your odds of success.
Now for a not-so-uplifting prediction: Most people are not going to keep their resolutions all year long. They’ll start out with the best of intentions but the worst of strategies, expecting that they’ll somehow find the willpower to resist temptation after temptation. By the end of January, a third will have broken their resolutions, and by July more than half will have lapsed.
They’ll fail because they’ll eventually run out of willpower, which social scientists no longer regard as simply a metaphor. They’ve recently reported that willpower is a real form of mental energy, powered by glucose in the bloodstream, which is used up as you exert self-control.
The result is “ego depletion,” as this state of mental fatigue was named by Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University (and my co-author of a book on willpower). He and many of his colleagues have concluded that the way to keep a New Year’s resolution is to anticipate the limits of your willpower.
One of their newest studies, published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, tracked people’s reactions to temptations...