How to Create a New Years Resolution that Sticks
What's the key to creating a New Years Resolution that sticks? Transform it into a habit! Hard truth, but, simply put, motivation on it's own isn't enought to create lasting change. No matter how much you want to start working out, eating more healthy, or waking up earlier, it won't happen consistently without a little habit hacking.
Fortunately, we live in a time where expert opinions abound on the phenomena surrounding habits. Science has new answers on how to build good ones, as well as fresh ideas about how to break bad ones. So what's the best way to create constant momentum towards our goals in 2017?
1. Be Specific:
Building habits requires much more than saying, "Exercise more," or "Get organized." Creating new habits necessitates premeditation about all aspects of behavior patterns, that is, what comes before and after the subconscious actions of our habits.
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains the habit loop, and how we can use it to rewire our brains into accepting new behaviors more in line with our personal development goals.
Habits consist of three parts: the cue (or, the trigger), the routine (or, the behavior of the habit itself), and the reward (which is what we get out of the behavior that makes it stick). Duhigg explains that, according to neurological research, our brains actually shut down during the activity of habit behavior. This is why bad habits are so hard to break! However, if we can be specific about triggers and rewards when outlining new goals, it's possible to create new habits.
A good formula for creating resolutions, then, becomes something like, "If X (the cue), then I will Y (the behavior), and ultimately reward myself with Z." In some instances the reward is intrinsic, but if you have problems making your habit stick, invent something! Even if it's just patting yourself on the back and saying, "Hey man, I'm awesome."
2. Work with Old Habits:
You probably already have some habits, be they good or bad, so why go against familiar routines? By framing new habits within already established patterns of behavior, you're keeping them in line with your lifestyle and mentality, helping to ensure success.
Let's say you're trying to drink less coffee. You always have a coffee when you wake up, another mid-morning, one after lunch, and then another in mid-afternoon. Try piggybacking new habits onto the chronological triggers that already exist. Presumably, the reward in this case is energy, or renewed focus. Is there something else you can do to revitalize your body and spirit? Next time three o clock rolls around, try a refreshing green tea, a walk around the block, or a quick meditation session.
A few years ago, I used this method to help keep my kitchen clean. I love to cook, but after slaving away over dinner, who wants to go back to the sink for dishes? Because I was a smoker, I was much more likely to go outside for an after dinner cigarette, and let dirty pots and pans languish.
When I quit smoking, I found finishing dinner was a trigger for me, and would make me antsy. So, I chewed some nicotine gum, got up, and started scrubbing. Because the cue and reward remained the same, now I'm in the habit of always cleaning up after dinner. And I love waking up to sparkling counter tops (they smell better than cigarettes, anyway)!
3. Start Small:
Make sure you set goals that are achievable, realistic, and easy to execute! If you haven't exercised in over ten years, going to the gym for hours multiple times a week probably isn't a reachable goal. Why not make it easy for yourself? Begin with something you know you can do, for example, a quick run around the block. Unlike getting to the gym, which requires membership, transportation, etc, a quick run only needs you to head outside.
The less steps between you and the behavior you're trying to start, the better. If you are setting your sights on something long term and complex, make sure you break it down into manageable and actionable steps. This way, we feel the achievement aspect more quickly, which helps motivate us to stay on track.
Don't forget, if you get frustrated, go easy on yourself! Would you demand immediate results from a child learning new behaviors? Or criticize a friend struggling with quitting bad habits? Probably not! So, why be so harsh on yourself? Often, we are our own worst judges. Remember that backsliding is natural, and don't get too down on yourself if you miss a few days. Nobody is perfect, and we have to be flexible if we're going to be able to hit life's various curve balls.
4. Track Your Progress:
Using some sort of tracking system to stay on top of progress is a great way to keep yourself accountable. There are lots of different ways to do this. If you use a paper planner, you can create a color coded legend, marking each day you perpetuate good habits or break down bad ones. Fun fact: there are some planner/journal systems with a focus on goals and habit tracking, like the bullet journal.
If you are more of a digital person, there are plenty of smartphone apps aimed at habit building out there. Strides, Way of Life, and Productive are all great options, to name a few. When all else fails, you can always rely on your friends! Set up an accountability group that's mutually beneficial - it keeps everyone on task. I have one of these myself, and I wouldn't get nearly as much done without them!
Interested in a habit tracking worksheet you can print out and use at home? Join our e-mail list and get one delivered right to your inbox - free of charge!
5. Focus on One at a Time:
According to B.J. Fogg, an expert on habits and behavior from Stanford University, it takes about 90 days for a habit to become something we do automatically. This year, instead of jumping into all of your resolutions at once, try plotting them out on a calendar one by one, leaving more time to develop habits you know will be particularly difficult. Make sure you give each new habit about 2-3 months to get locked into your behavior patterns.
January is the perfect time to plot out long term goals. I like to divide up "big ticket" resolutions into quarterly segments. For example, going to the gym is really hard for me. For the first part of the year, I'm focusing on better work habits. These are a bit easier for me, and since I'm in transition at the moment (*cough* new business *cough*), it's a more realistic expectation. Then, come spring, I'll get into my resolution for exercise. By the end of the year, I should have solidly established at least four big new healthy habits!
One tool I really like for long term planning is the Project Planner by Livework - a holiday gift from a dear friend. It features yearly, monthly, and weekly views so I can keep track of my goals over time. Plus, it features specialized sections for taking notes and visually tacking progress.
Wishing us all the best of luck with our New Years Resolutions!