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We hate to admit it, but making New Year’s resolutions is generally a losing battle.

The reality is, by Valentine’s Day, most people will have long forgotten the big goals they set for 2016. But there is a simple thing you can do to make both yourself and those around you stick to them once and for all.

The big secret? Ask questions instead of making statements.

Resolutions

We know it might sound strange, but a new study out of California spanning 40 years of research found that by asking questions, you can influence behaviour. It’s called the “question-behaviour effect”, and it can totally change the way you think about those goals you set.

For example, let’s say your aim this year is to go to the gym more often. Your approach, up until this point, has probably been to tell yourself “I’m going to the gym today – no excuses.” And then, no matter how much you dread it, you’ll force yourself down there anyway for another hour of misery.

Let’s try a different approach.

Instead of telling yourself you’re going to go to the gym, ask yourself if you’re going to go to the gym. The thought then becomes “Will I exercise today?”

“It’s going to make your attitudes towards exercising more accessible,” Ioannis Kareklas, assistant marketing professor at the University of Albany, told CTV News. “It’s going to remind you of all the times you should have exercised and didn’t exercise. And, the thinking goes, you’re more likely to exercise in the future.”

The reason this is effective is because it forces someone to hold two inconsistent thoughts at the same time, which in turn creates tension and motivates behavioural change. In the gym example, remembering all the times you didn’t go to the gym will make you more likely to go to the gym.

Additionally, keeping up the practice in the short-term can have long-lasting effects, as the researchers note in some cases the benefits can last up to a year. The effect also works when the questions are posed from someone else, so now you know how to help out your resolution-making friends.

Now, you may have also heard of another study that warns against talking about your New Year’s resolutions altogether. These are not actually contradictory messages, though. When you talk to all of your friends about how you’re going to hit the gym five times a week this year and look fitter than ever, you might think you’re just furthering your own commitment. But actually, you’re giving yourself a “premature sense of completeness”. The act of telling everyone what you’re going to do, and then hearing their approval, provides similar satisfaction to when you’d actually go out and do it.

But asking questions is not the same thing. Asking yourself if you will go to the gym is not the same as declaring to your family that you will five times a week. So in short, ask questions instead of making statements, and try to keep your goals to yourself as much as possible.

After all, this is all about you. Happy 2016!