The buddy system boosts the likelihood of sticking to your New Year’s resolutions, according to new research.
A new study from Mark Conner, Ph.D., of the Institute of Psychological Science at the University of Leeds, and his colleagues Dr. Andrew Prestwich and Dr. Rebecca Lawton, has demonstrated that the effect of “implementation intentions” — where people make specific plans, with cues to prompt planned behavior — is strengthened when other people, such as friends, family and colleagues, get involved.
The Leeds team worked with volunteers who agreed to participate in two studies attempting to increase their levels of exercise or improve their diet. Some were left to do it on their own; others were asked to recruit a partner.
A third group were encouraged to develop “if…then…” plans. These take the form of “if I feel hungry before lunch, I’ll eat an apple, not a candy bar.” A fourth group was told to makes these “if…then” plans with a partner.
“We followed up after one, three and six months to see how the employees were doing,” he said. “It was quite clear that working together and joint planning really helped employees stick to their new exercise regimes. Moreover, the involvement of a partner in planning had a sustained effect that was still noticeable after six months.”
Conner warns that recruiting a buddy is not a guarantee for success. The real power, he says, is in matching your “ifs” and “thens” so you have powerful cues for your new behavior.
“When all else is equal, forming exercise plans with a partner will increase your chances of actually sticking to them,” he adds.
He notes that these findings could be applied to various government and health initiatives, such as smoking cessation programs or efforts to reduce obesity. Instead of putting all the onus on an individual, people should be encouraged to work with others and form clear “if… then…” plans, he said.
“Individual change can, of course, happen, but it is even better to have a friend on your side,” he concludes.