As the New Year approaches, so does the dread of coming up with new resolutions — or reviving old ones. Whether it’s losing weight, quitting smoking or putting more into savings, those personal vows of self-improvement are notoriously difficult to keep.
Rather than nailing down a number (lose 20 pounds, say, or save $100 more per month), it’s best to keep those goals a little vague if you want to succeed, says a new study to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.
The team — comprised of husband and wife Himanshu and Arul Mishra, assistant professors of marketing at the University of Utah, and Baba Shiv of Stanford University — designed experiments to look at improvements in mental acuity, physical strength and weight loss. They found in each case that when study participants were given a vague marker of improvement rather than a specific one, they showed a much higher rate of improvement.
For example, before the mental acuity test, participants were first informed that 1 gram of chocolate would theoretically enhance their performance. Those who were then given what appeared to be exactly 1 gram of cocoa improved their initial scores by 10.3 points. But those who were told they were given somewhere between 0.5 to 1.5 grams improved even more, by 13.7 points.