Forty-five percent of Americans often come up with New Year's resolutions but only a few successfully achieve their goals. Of those who attempt to make positive changes in their life, 24 percent fail to keep up with their resolutions each year.

Studies conducted by psychologists and other experts, however, reveal the secrets on how to stick to one's new year's resolutions. Here are some of them:

Asking Questions Instead Of Declaring Resolutions

Researchers from four U.S. universities have found that asking questions is a more effective way of keeping up with resolutions. The researchers looked at more than 100 studies to examine the question-behavior effect in which questions about a particular subject influence future decisions.

Eric Spangenberg and his colleagues found that this technique influenced behavior more than six months after the questioning. According to their study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, asking a question can prompt a psychological response that can influence later decisions.

When applied to making New Year's resolutions, the technique deems a question such as "Will I quit smoking?" as more effective than simply stating "I will quit smoking." Asking a question reminds people that kicking the habit is a good idea and also makes smokers feel guilty or uncomfortable if they don't start taking steps to quit.

"We found the effect is strongest when questions are used to encourage behavior with personal and socially accepted norms, such as eating healthy foods or volunteering," said Spangenberg. "But it can be used effectively to even influence consumer purchases, such as a new computer."

Writing Goals Down And Sharing These With A Friend

A study on goal setting conducted by Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University of California, showed that participants who wrote down their goals and shared these - along with weekly progress reports - with their friends had a success rate of 76 percent compared with 35 percent of those who only thought about their goals.

“My study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals,” said Matthews.

Turning Resolutions Into Specific Behaviors

New Year's resolutions typically involve replacing old and bad habits and people who successfully change these old ways achieve the so-called "habitual automaticity," or performing the new habit without the need to think about it.

In one study, researchers found that participants who planned when and where they would floss were more successful in improving their dental habits compared with the participants who did not. This suggests that breaking resolutions into specific behaviors and putting these on a timetable make them more achievable.

Focusing On One Resolution

When it comes to achieving goals, less is often more. In 2007, British psychologist Richard Wiseman conducted a survey in which he tracked the success of the New Year's resolutions of more than 3,000 people. He found that only 12 percent were able to achieve their goals.

Based on his observations on what the successful people did differently, Wiseman said that goals should be small and manageable. This principle is evident in business where companies that have fewer priorities show more growth. To keep up with New Year's resolutions, Wiseman suggests focusing on a single goal, because breaking one bad habit is easier to do than breaking several all in one go.

"[Y]our chances of success are greater when you channel energy into changing just one aspect of your behavior," Wiseman wrote in a blog post.

He also suggested breaking down that one goal into a number of concrete steps, with each step having a corresponding sub-goal. These smaller goals should be measurable and have specific deadlines. To gain a sense of achievement and maintain motivation, Wiseman encouraged keeping a journal and rewarding one's self every time a sub-goal is reached.

However, even with all these, reverting to old habits can be expected. This is the point where many people give up trying to achieve their goals. What will you do if - or when - this happens?

"Treat any failure as a temporary setback rather than a reason to give up altogether," Wiseman advised.

Photo: Chris Potter | Flickr 

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