According to an article written by Rachel Bachman for the Wall Street Journal, people with New Year’s resolutions to work out or work out more begin to waver during the third week of January. The pattern shows how tough it is to make a new habit stick.

Here’s part of the article….

It takes about 66 days to form a habit, according to a 2009 study by researchers at University College London.

Setting a specific goal is more effective than vague vows to work out more. A new habit should be realistic enough to be reachable but challenging enough to be worthwhile, experts say.

One strategy for sticking to a workout resolution is to create plans specifying when, and how you will take action, says Peter Gollwitzer, a psychology professor at New York University who studies how goals and plans affect behavior. An example, he says, is thinking, “After I have my cup of coffee every Saturday morning, I will put on my shoes and go running.

What we find is that it’s no longer you who controls the behavior,” Dr. Gollwitzer says. “The situation triggers the action.”

People who start gym memberships in January often have been putting off exercise, says Deb Praver, a group-fitness instructor at the Crunch Gym in Burbank, California. She teaches a cardio-and-strength class.

Ms. Praver, who also works as a stand-up comedian, makes self-deprecating jokes to disarm new arrivals who might feel intimidated. “I’ll come in and be like, ‘I just had a really big dinner last night and my tights are screaming,'” she says.

Life Time Fitness is a health club and spa chain based in Chanhassen, Minn. Jeff Zwiefel, chief operating officer, says that local club officials call a new member 5 times in the first month of membership – the first time after just 3 days – and again after 3 months.

They make sure that members are satisfied with their club experience, and ask if there is anything they can do to help with fitness goals. The club officials make the calls whether new members come into the gym or not. Mr. Zwiefel says the company’s retention rate is better than the industry average.

Social scientists say what gets people to stick to new habits can be counterintuitive. While a body of research holds that telling a friend your resolution can help you stick with a new habit, broadcasting your intention to work out could backfire.

“If you have that identity – you want to be fit – indicating to others that you’re going to move forward by doing all kinds of things might actually lead to inaction,” Dr.Gollwitzer says. You have convinced yourself that you are on your way.”

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