Woman working out at the gym

New Year’s Resolutions: Easier Tweeted than Done

Publicly announcing virtuous goals can make people less likely to actually accomplish them


As January 1st rolls around, the Facebook posts and tweets start appearing.  “This year I’m going to

… run a marathon.”

… lose weight.”

… quit smoking.”

All your friends are setting their New Year’s resolutions.  But should they be broadcasting their intentions?

The illusion of accomplishment

Studies have shown that announcing your intentions publicly actually makes you less likely to follow through.  That’s because, by telling people, you already feel like you’ve accomplished something, making you feel less like you need to reach your actual goal.  This is especially true when the goal is related to your identity.  You’ve created a “social reality” where people already see you as the person you want to be.  In a 2009 study, law students were asked to set intentions with the goal of becoming a successful lawyer.  These intentions were then either shared with the group or not.  Afterwards, the students were asked to what degree they felt like a lawyer already.  Those students whose intentions were read aloud and acknowledged felt more like a lawyer then those whose intentions remained secret.

Creating accountability

On the other hand, read any list of “how to keep your New Year’s resolution” (like this one or this one), and you’re bound to find a point that says you should tell people.  Telling people will create a sense of accountability.  You don’t want people to see you fail, so you’re bound to keep your resolution.

Cooperation versus competition

Telling someone and convincing them to pursue the same goal can also be beneficial, like having a personal cheerleader.  If one day you’re not feeling up for that yoga class, they can help convince you, and vice versa.

Or, if you’re anything like me, the spirit of competition will drive you to work harder to achieve your goals.  That’s the sentiment behind Fitness Against Friends, an app where you score points by doing exercises and compete against your friends.

So which argument is the correct one?

It’s all in your head

In the end, it all depends on your perception.  If you post something on Facebook about running a marathon, and you perceive that as an act of commitment, it will probably help.  If you post something and perceive that as an act of accomplishment, then it will actually make things worse.

Of course there are many other factors involved in whether you keep your resolution (attainability, specificity, etc.) and your personality will affect your outcome as well.  But before you tweet your New Year’s resolution or post a gym selfie on Facebook, think about why you’re doing it.

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Malgosia Pakulska is a freelance science writer, speaker, and blogger. She completed her PhD in Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab studying drug delivery systems for spinal cord regeneration after injury. She is still passionate about research and wants to share that excitement with the public. When she is not in the lab, she is experimenting in the kitchen and blogging about it at Smart Cookie Bakes.