Can't Keep Resolutions? It's Not Your Fault. It's Your Friends.

Last Updated Nov 8, 2010 3:06 PM EST

It's less than two weeks into the new year and millions of Americans already are struggling to keep their New Year's resolutions. Sound familiar?

No matter whether you decided to lose weight, give up smoking or budget, you're likely to blame yourself and your lack of willpower if you fail. But it may not be your fault, said Joseph Grenny, author of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. It could be your friends.

Grenny, who works for a behavioral research firm called VitalSmarts, said they recently studied some 3,400 individuals who were attempting to make a major change, which ran the gamut from kicking a drug habit, to quitting smoking or losing significant weight. Six factors played into the participant's success or failure, he said. But nothing was as important as their friends.

"If you have bad habits that you want to change, you are going to have to change your relationships with people who are part of that bad habit," Grenny said. "Just having an overweight friend makes it more likely that you'll be overweight."

The good news is that you may not have to get rid of your smoking or shopping buddies. But if you want to succeed in making a change, you may have to "convert" them from being "accomplices" to being true friends, Grenny said.

To clarify, Grenny categorizes personal relationships into four groups: Active friends; passive friends; active and passive accomplices.

Active friends are those who support and encourage you when you're trying to make a change. Passive friends simply set a good example by, say, choosing the cottage cheese rather than the fries when you go out to eat.

Passive accomplices don't try to tempt you into bad behavior, but they don't worry about what they do in your presence. Active accomplices actually have a stake in keeping you on the wrong path, Grenny said. They encourage you to join them on the smoking porch, even though you've given up the habit, for example. Why? You are a part of their bad habit, and they don't want to lose you.

For every accomplice you have, your chance of successful change drops by 4%, Grenny said.

An active friend boosts your chance of success by 35%. Two active friends increase your chance of success by a whopping 60%, he added.

The key to keeping your resolutions, then, becomes simple in concept, but tough in reality. To keep your resolutions, you need to convert your accomplices into friends.

How?

The first step is to make your bad habit discuss-able, he said. Generally speaking, your friends aren't going to bring up the fact that you've put on some serious pounds or have been drinking way too much, unless you say something first. But if you say, "Hey, I my health is really suffering because of my weight and I need to do something about it," you allow your friends to ask how they can help.

What if your friends have been participating in the habit you want to break? Your chance of converting them from accomplices to friends is vastly greater if you make it clear that you're not trying to change their behavior, you just need their help to work on your own.

The toughest thing, Grenny said, is when your accomplices are members of your family. It can be easy, for example, to talk your shopping buddies into going for a walk on the beach instead of the mall. But telling your family that you want to get rid of fatty snacks at home affects everyone and is a tougher sell. Try to compromise and accommodate their needs, while looking out for your own, he suggested. Instead of eliminating the snacks, maybe you can get smaller portions and put them in less obvious places so they aren't tempting you from the counter every morning.

If you can't convert your accomplices into friends, you need to give them wide berth. One woman, who had given up chain smoking, sadly noted that she had to stop going to her dad's house every week because he, too, was a chain smoker. It was too tempting to fall into the old habits when she was there, Grenny said.

"One of the sad truths of this is that relationships almost always changed when people changed their habits," he said.

Finally, you'd be wise to make new friends, who participate in the healthy habits that you're trying to establish. Another man, who successfully dropped a tremendous amount of weight, announced his intention to become a runner on Facebook, Grenny noted. Within minutes, two acquaintances messaged that they were going to start running too. They became a big part of this man's success.

If you must kick some of your old friends to the curb, the good news, says Grenny, is that "finding new friends is surprisingly easy. A lot of people use social networking just to declare their intentions. It's a really easy way to find people who are doing what you want to do."

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