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Stanford Medicine

Behavioral Science, Mental Health, Research

Boosting willpower and breaking bad habits

Raise your hand if you’re having trouble keeping your New Year’s resolution. Not to worry; you’re in good company. Recent data shows that four out of five people who vowed to reform bad habits will eventually break those promises. A third of this group will give up on their resolutions by Feb. 1, which is Wednesday.

So now is a good time to reflect on your 2012 goals and re-commit to your efforts. A Q&A posted with Florida State University social psychologist Roy Baumeister, PhD, offers insights and tips to help boost your willpower, which research suggests is limited, and break bad habits.

On the topic of things you can do to maximize your chance of successfully keeping a resolution, Baumeister suggests sharing your goals with others, tracking progress and findings ways to minimize decision-making. He says:

Social support and interpersonal pressure can help quite a bit. The most important thing is to keep track, day by day, of what you are trying to control. Keep an explicit, written record of how much you eat or spend or exercise. Sharing this record with others is also helpful.

Pre-commitment is another class of helpful strategies. When people choose what they are going to eat well in advance, they eat better than when they decide, impulsively, what and how much to eat on each occasion. Pre-commitment includes things like automatic savings plans that transfer some of your paycheck into a savings account, without you having to make a decision each time.

In the article, Baumeister echoes several key points discussed by Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, in this earlier Scope Q&A.

Previously: Stanford health psychologist offers tips for increasing your willpower and The science of willpower
Photo by moMents fiXats

One Response to “ Boosting willpower and breaking bad habits ”

  1. Philip Says:

    I believe that most New Year Resolutions are not adheared to because they are “only” New Year Resolutions. Do you guys have any data to show the difference between a New Year Resolution and lets say a person that wants to stop smoking?

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