Buddy Up to Stick with Resolutions

Partnering with a friend can help you stick with a healthy resolution. But based on a 2012 study in Health Psychology, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. You’re more likely to reach your goal if the two of you put your heads together first.

A Pal and A Plan

Researchers from the University of Leeds in England studied 257 volunteers who wanted to become more physically active. The volunteers were randomly divided into four groups. One group made a specific plan with a partner to work together on an exercise goal. The remaining three groups had a plan only, a partner only, or neither. Those with both a partner and a plan were more physically active than the other groups over the next six months.

Here’s how they did it:

  1. Discuss the activity. First, volunteers and their partners talked about activities that might be fun and convenient to do together.
  2. Discuss the time and place. Then, volunteers and their partners talked about when and where they could do these activities.
  3. Formulate if-then plans. Next, they came up with specific plans, stated in the following form: IF we (are in situation X), THEN we (will do Y together). Each team formulated five plans for exercising together at different times or in different situations.
  4. Evaluate the plans. Finally, they made sure their plans added up to enough time to reach their goal: 150 minutes of exercise per week.

Just roping a friend into working with you isn’t enough, according study coauthor Mark Conner, PhD, a professor of applied social psychology at the University of Leeds. He says the real power of buddying up lies in matching your if-then plans with your partner's.

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Friend or Foe?

Without an explicit plan for working together, you and your friend might actually undermine each other’s motivation. Psychological researchers Grainne Fitzsimons, PhD, and Eli Finkel, PhD call this “self-regulatory outsourcing.” In a nutshell, this means that people tend to work less hard for a goal after thinking about how a partner can help them achieve it. It’s as if they mentally outsource some of the job to their partner, so they exert less effort themselves.

Creating a plan with your pal helps overcome this tendency, because it spells out exactly how you’ll each work on the goal. When it comes to health resolutions, IF you make specific plans with a buddy, THEN you'll be more likely to reach them together.

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