John Norcross, author of "Changeology" and a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, has been studying self change for 30 years.
"Whether you're talking about New Year's or the Great American Smokeout or a 40-day weight loss, the process of change is uncannily similar," he said. The biggest reason most people fail? "The average person has been blamed for failing to change, but rarely trained to change," he said.
"If you're saying, Oops, it's Lent, let me begin something -- that's destined to fail."
Instead, research has pinpointed some behaviors that can set the stage for success. First, Norcross said, think about the behavior you want to change and plan the healthy opposite before you begin. Make it as specific and concrete as possible, said Pychyl, who wrote "Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Positive Change." Establish new habits rather than simply getting rid of the old.
"So if your goal is to lose weight, tell yourself, ‘I will set myself a smaller plate at dinner, and I will only have one helping,'" he said.