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February 2012

The Key to Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions

We are just a few weeks into 2012, but for some people the resolve and motivation that was so strong on January 1 may already be waning. With weight loss undoubtedly topping many New Year’s resolution lists, a new study suggests that a simple writing exercise may hold the key to actually sticking with and achieving those weight-loss goals.
Researchers from Renison University College at the University of Waterloo and Stanford University recruited 45 female undergraduates, each of whom had a body mass index of 23 or higher (58 percent were overweight or obese). The women were weighed and then asked to rank a list of values—things like music, relationships, politics and creativity—according to how important each one was to her. The women were then randomly divided into groups: The first group was told to write for 15 minutes about the value that was most important to her, while the second group wrote about why one of their low-ranked values might be important to someone else.
All participants returned to be weighed after one to four months. The women who had written about their most important value had lost an average of 3.41 pounds, while those in the other group had gained an average of 2.76 pounds (a weight gain considered typical of undergraduates).
“How we feel about ourselves can have a big effect,” explains lead author Christine Logel, Ph.D. “We think it sort of kicks of a recursive process.” In other words, the process of writing about a value made the individual feel better about herself, which might lead to fewer negative behaviors, such as eating to feel better.
Coauthor Geoffrey L. Cohen, Ph.D., says that in a previous study, he used the same technique with seventh-graders who were struggling academically. The writing exercises appeared to have long-lasting positive effects on the students’ academic performance.
“My dream, and my research goal,” says Logan, “is to get to this point where people can do it deliberately to benefit themselves.” Certainly, this simple writing exercise is worth utilizing with clients who are working toward achieving fitness- and health-related goals. After all, she argues, “there’s no harm in taking time to reflect on important values and working activities you value into your daily life.”
Source: Logel, C. and Cohen, G.L. (2011). The role of the self in physical health: Testing the effect of a values-affirmation intervention on weight loss. Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797611421936


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