(Photo:Flickr/lululemon athletica)

With the first week of 2012 winding down, some of us are already panicking about how to successfully stick to those New Year’s resolutions we resigned ourselves to before the ball dropped. But a new study from the Economic and Social Research Council has found that your odds are much better if you have someone trying to keep that resolution with you.

Research has already shown that people are more likely to stick to a goal if they plan ahead to commit, instead of deciding to do it on a whim. But chances of succeeding are even greater if a person decides to use the buddy system, according to the study.

“Specific plans regarding when, where and how a person will act have been termed ‘implementation intentions,'” said researcher Mark Conner. “We already know that these kinds of plans can be really effective. You set up cues that prompt your planned behavior — ‘If I walk to work on Monday, then I will jog home,’ ‘If I feel hungry before lunch then I will eat an apple, not a chocolate bar.’ ”

The researchers, who are from the University of Leeds, focused on the common New Year’s goal of a healthier lifestyle:

“The Leeds team worked with employees from 15 councils who volunteered to participate in two studies attempting to increase their levels of exercise or improve their diet. Some employees were just left to do it on their own; others were asked to recruit a partner. A third group [was] encouraged to develop ‘if…then…’ plans, and a fourth group was told to makes these ‘if…then’ plans with a partner.”

“We followed up after one, three and six months to see how the employees were doing,” Conner said, “and it was quite clear that working together and joint planning really helped employees stick to their new exercise regimes. Moreover, the involvement of a partner in planning had a sustained effect that was still noticeable after six months.”

While this study focused on eating better and exercising, the researchers believe that the results of this study could be applied to certain government initiatives to help kick bad habits, like smoking.

“Individual change can of course happen,” Conner said, “but it is even better to have a friend on your side!”

Source: Economic and Social Research Council

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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