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Spring Forward: Two Tips From the Institute of Inertia on Translating Good Intentions Into Action

11/04/2016 13:09 | Updated 11 April 2016

Remember January when, following a few weeks of indulgence, we returned to our day-to-day lives full of good intentions for the year ahead? Whether it was the hope of dropping a dress size, running a marathon, or saving money for a dream holiday, many of us formed New Year resolutions. However, although around 40% of people apparently make resolutions, more sobering evidence suggests that just 8% of those people will achieve those resolutions and scientific papers and anecdotal reports alike point to the difficulties that people encounter translating their good intentions into action. For example, often we are not ready to confront the problem and so the goals that we set are unrealistic or are not supported by a clear plan of action - in short, they are destined to fail.

The Institute of Inertia is a partnership between the University of Sheffield and comparethemarket.com that seeks to understand the difficulties that people encounter when striving to achieve their goals. In so doing, we hope to find innovative ways to overcome some of these difficulties. In this blog, I'd like to share two of our top tips for success in the hope that the onset of Spring provides an opportunity for people to reinvigorate their resolutions and get them back on track.

1. Don't bury your head in the sand: Evidence suggests that people often act like the proverbial ostrich and bury their heads in the sand, rather than confront the reality that they are not making the progress toward their goals that they would like, or hoped for. One strategy for success is to keep track of your progress and be honest with yourself regarding what needs to change. For example, if you resolved back in January to save some money so that you can treat yourself to a holiday, then you need to be realistic about whether you are on track to achieving this goal. Assuming that you plan to go on holiday in the Summer, then you probably need to have already saved half of the money that you need. But when did you last look at your bank account? Do you know how much money is coming in, how much you are spending each week, and how much you can put toward the holiday? If you don't have the full picture, then you are less likely to be able to achieve your goal.

2. Plan ahead: Evidence suggests that people who plan when, where, and how they will achieve their goals are much more likely to do so than those who do not form plans. But some plans are better than others. Particularly effective plans are those that identify (i) a good opportunity to take action (returning to the example above of saving for a holiday, this might be the end of the month) and (ii) a suitable response to that opportunity (e.g., see if there is spare money in a bank account that could be saved). The opportunity and response should then be linked together using an if-then format (this is called forming an implementation intention). For example, "If it is the last day of the month, then I will check my bank balance and transfer any spare funds to my savings!". Lots of evidence suggests that planning in this way helps people to achieve their goals.

So don't worry if you haven't yet achieved your New Year's resolution(s). Take a cue from nature, Spring forward, and use the two strategies above to convert those good intentions into positive actions.

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