Have you got a New Year’s resolution? Is it the same one you make year upon year and never manage to keep?
This year we give you the five steps to making a habit and finally keeping your New Year’s resolution.
Non-specific, general goals are hard to meet. If your New Year’s resolution is along the lines of ‘I’m going to exercise more’ or ‘I’m going to eat healthier’ you’ve lost already. General goals like this are hard to form a habit out of because there is too much variety. Instead of saying ‘I’m going to eat healthier’ make your aim ‘I’m going to eat a piece of fruit with lunch every day’. Replace ‘I’m going to exercise more’ with ‘I’m going to go to the gym on Saturday mornings’. The more specific you are the less likely you will be to wriggle out.
Set yourself a cue
Our brains like cues. When we get into bed we feel sleepy, when we see the front door we take out our keys. These cues help us function without having to make a decision about every tiny thing. Set yourself a cue to form your habit. If your goal is to go to the gym on a Saturday decide on a specific time and set an alarm. If you do this enough times your brain will associate the Saturday alarm clock with the gym and you will automatically get ready to go [1, 2].
We’re simple beings. If we’re rewarded for something we’ll do it again. Make a calendar and mark it every time you do what you said you would do. You won’t need to keep doing this once you have formed a habit but it’s a nice little boost in the meantime.
Have a backup plan
We are usually very good at keeping resolutions for the first few days then we start making excuses. Having a backup plan will get you through. For example, if it’s too cold to get out of bed on a Saturday morning to go to the gym leave your gym gear beside your bed so you don’t have to move too far in the cold. Or, time your heating to come on half an hour before you need to get up so that the room is warm. Encourage yourself by recognising and removing hurdles in advance.
Do it for 21 days
This isn’t set in stone. Some habits take longer to form than others and people differ in how well they can form a habit . The main message is to keep at it. The more you do a behaviour the easier it becomes to keep doing it. At the tipping point, it might be repeating it 20 times or it might be 80 times, it will become a habit.
If you have a New Year’s resolution this year make it specific, set some triggers, reward yourself, have a backup plan and keep doing it. Make your resolution a habit and you will finally have met your New Year’s resolution.
1. Neal, D.T., W. Wood, and J.M. Quinn, Habits—A repeat performance. Current Directions in
Psychological Science, 2006. 15(4): p. 198-202.
2. Lally, P., et al., How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European
Journal of Social Psychology, 2010. 40(6): p. 998-1009.