bathroom scale, weight loss, over weight
Foot on Bathroom Scale;
This is it! This is finally the year you'll lose 10 pounds, or start eating healthier, or run your first 5K.
And maybe it really is -- but you might have a better chance of meeting your healthy resolutions if you'd shut up about them already.
Blabbing about your New Year's diet -- or whatever your big 2012 goal may be -- may hurt your chances of actually doing whatever it is you intend to do this year, say a slew of psychology studies, some dating as far back as the 1920s.
As TODAY's diet and nutrition editor, Madelyn Fernstrom, explains it: "Many people want credit just for saying they'll do something. ... They want credit just for the effort."
The phenomenon is maybe most apparent in the lives we live online: Have you ever announced to your friends on Facebook (or Twitter, or Tumblr) your intention to do something big -- say, run a half or full marathon? Quit smoking? Drop 10 pounds? Each Internet pat-on-the-back is so rewarding in itself -- which means our resolve to actually dothing we said we were going to do drops with every like or retweet or reblog.
Psychologists call it "social reality" -- those social rewards that essentially trick the brain into thinking what you intended to do has pretty much already been done. In 1928, Russian psychologist Mary Ovsiankina demonstrated that we can swap our initial goal for another, and we'll still feel like we did what we set out to do -- as long as the substitute goal was witnessed by other people. And in 2009, New York University professor Peter Gollwitzer published a follow-up study to his 1982 book on the same topic: that talking a big game about our future plans makes us less likely to take action.
In that 2009 study, Wollitzer and colleagues from German and UK universities did one experiment involving 63 psychology students, asking them whether they intended to study videotaped therapy sessions in order to become better clinical psychologists. For about half the students who said yes, the experimenter noticeably acknowledged their intention; the other half's answers went unnoticed. The students were then given the chance to do what they said they'd do -- watch a video of a psychologist's session with a client. Those whose goals were unacknowledged watched the video for longer than the students whose intentions were recognized.
But Fernstrom says that for some, publicly declaring an intention may be motivating because it's too embarassing to back out.
Some celebrities, for example, seem to thrive on public weight loss announcements -- like Jessica Simpson, who before even giving birth reportedly signed a $3 million deal with Weight Watchers to lose the baby weight. (How's that for motivation?)
Of course, celebs like Simpson also have personal trainers, personal nutritionists and personal cooks to help them achieve the weight loss or fitness goal they may have otherwise lost interest in. If you have no personal assistants to guide you in your mission, and you absolutely must talk to someone about it -- be careful with the way you speak about your not-yet-met goal. Talk in terms of progress -- what you've done, what you've got left to do and what you need to be held accountable for.
Speaking of New Year's resolutions -- watch Ferstrom talk about kick-starting your healthy 2012 habits on this morning's TODAY.
What's the biggest goal you've ever set for yourself -- and achieved? Did you find it helped to tell others about it, or did you keep your big plans to yourself? Tell us about it on our Facebook page. If we like your story, we might use it in an upcoming TODAY Health post.