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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 11:29 GMT
Stick to that resolution. Oh yes you will
Stubbed cigarette and fast food portion

Since 1 January, dieters, quitters and general get-fitters have been wrestling with New Year's resolutions. After nearly 78 days a survey suggests this is the moment most people are ready to quit. But you can steer clear of the herd and beat the urge, says persuasion expert Steve Martin.

Most of us will agree that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".

For many people such a mantra can be inspiring, especially if the journey that we are about to embark upon is a long one that follows a potentially difficult path.

Anyone who kicked off the New Year making a commitment to a new diet and exercise regime will know this only too well.

Publicising the fact that many people are giving up on their diet potentially, and unwittingly, causes even more people to give up theirs too

Today is Death of the Diet Day, according to a survey by PruHealth. It's supposedly the day when more commitments will fall by the wayside than on any other day in the calendar.

Many of us won't be that comfortable admitting or even recognising the powerful influence that other people's behaviour has over our own. Behavioural psychologists however have no such problem observing the real reasons why we behave the way we do.

Studies have shown time and time again that when we see others around us behaving in certain ways their actions will often guide our own actions and decisions. This is especially true when those actions and decisions are made by the people we see as similar to us.

And that's the potential problem of Death of a Diet Day. If this is the day when lots of other people are likely to give up their new diet and exercise regime then such action becomes popular.

Attention focus

As a result, publicising the fact that many people are giving up on their diet potentially, and unwittingly, causes even more people to give up theirs too.

Of course, not everyone will behave in this way. There are some people who will become even more determined to succeed. But how can people effectively persuade themselves to continue towards their goal?

Woman eats chocolate
Many will now have had enough of dieting

Recent psychological research suggests that often the key to sticking with long term commitments depends not only on a person's level of commitment when they first start out but also where they focus their attention.

When a person's level of commitment to a goal is relatively weak, it is best for that person to focus their attention and continually point out to themselves how much progress they have already made toward their goals.

In contrast, if a person's level of commitment to a goal is relatively strong, the researchers found it was more productive for them to focus their attention on how much remains to be done to accomplish their goals.

So what can we do to ensure that we will keep our long term commitment going and not be unduly influenced by Death of a Diet Day?

  • If we feel our commitment is weakening then we should focus our attention on what we have achieved so far and remind ourselves of all the great progress we have already made that would be lost if we gave up now.
  • Writing down and then carrying out small actionable goals that we have no excuses for incorporating into our busy day can help too. A session at the gym, getting off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of way are good examples.
  • Telling other people about your commitments, sharing them with a supportive friend and surrounding yourself with people who are also making long term commitments should help too.
  • Avoid those who use concepts like a "Death of a Diet Day" as the perfect excuse to admit defeat.

Below is a selection of your comments.

Or alternatively, avoid making New Years Resolutions that are unltimately unattainable, and instead, stick to a long term healthy eating plan that actually works.
Heather, Willenhall

Unfortunately, the new members of my local gym seem to be doing better at keeping their resolutions, this year. Normally, after a busy Jan and Feb, the place quietens down in March. Not much sign of that, this year, yet. Must be bad for business, too, as the gym business depends on people signing up for a year, but not bothering to turn up after a few weeks. Go on, guys and girls, skip the gym, have a pizza and do me and the gym's accountants a favour.
Peter C, Cambridge

I make a point of studitiously avoiding the trap of New Year Resolutions. If you need to start something, quit something or otherwise change something, then address the issue when you're good and ready, not when everybody else tells you that you should be.
Bill Gribble, Gloucester, UK

I stopped smoking after the best part of 30 years in November. This gave me a decent run-up to Christmas and the raft of parties where temptation might arise. I am glad to say that I did not give in and am now at 4 months and counting. I won't say I've cracked it but I am having a good go.
CM, London, UK

I have just purchased a "juicer" and have used it every day so far - thats 4 days! I make carrot juice which is quick, healthy and tastes great so there will be no problem making the juice. The down side is the juicer takes ages to wash. Whether or not I stick with it will be determined by how quickly I can wash it.
Anon, UK

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