New Year’s resolutions: most of us make them, some attempt them, and fewer sill actually achieve them. This is especially true when the subject of the resolution is exercise. New research might provide a solution.
A joint study by researchers from the University of Manchester, Leeds Trinity University, and the National University of Ireland Galway found that achieving and maintaining high self-efficacy is the key to succeeding in exercise-based goals. The strength of belief in one’s ability to execute an objective (self-efficacy) was found to correlate with success. Dr Mei Yee Tang, one of the lead researchers, explained, “one of the biggest influences of our behaviour is our own beliefs. If we believe we are capable of doing something, then we are more likely to devote effort to it and feel we can do it even if it may be a difficult task.”
Therefore, the more confident you are in your own abilities, the more likely you are to push limits and challenge yourself. If techniques can be utilised to enhance this self-efficacy, then the probability of success is raised. However, the strategies used to achieve this are not as simple as putting cucumber slices over your eyes in the name of ‘self-care’.
Despite compiling data from over 180 studies, no one technique was found to blindly enhance everyone’s self-efficacy. Instead, the results differ based on health, age, and variety. The best and most long-term improvements were seen when a combination of different tools were used to improve confidence rather than simply relying on one to do the trick. However, this combination needs to be tailored to the appropriate age category.
Setting goals was found to be the best strategy for adults, both healthy and obese. Aiming for a specific achievement (be that a time bracket, weight category, or number of weekly gym sessions) appears to instil a strong sense of self-belief and thus enables people to stick to exercise goals. However, for elderly people, these strategies can actually be detrimental to their sense of self-efficacy. According to the study, older resolution makers need to use different strategies, and instead of being goal orientated, they should perform graded tasks. Difficulty should increase incrementally rather than jumping straight to a challenging level.
This knowledge could shine light on why it is that so many end the year with incomplete resolutions. Instead of tailoring efficacy-enhancing techniques to suit our own requirements, most people simply adopt the same common approaches. Telling ourselves that fast food is bad, reading information about why exercise is good, and buying fancy tech to motivate us.
Given that we are not all size 4 marathon runners who drink kale smoothies before morning yoga, it is evident that these steps are failing. According to the study, hardly anyone benefits from them. Enhancing self-efficacy is not a “magic bullet,” emphasised by Dr Tang, as many different strategies are needed to enhance it.
Similar research has found that self-efficacy correlates with other achievements. For example, students whose parents helped grow their self-efficacy were more likely to have enjoy increased academic success. So maybe the strategies detailed above can help us achieve other goals too.