‘New Year’ and ‘resolutions’ are so often put together that they’re almost synonymous.
The goals we set ourselves at the beginning of January become intentions for the year ahead – a year where we’re finally going to get to grips with the most challenging (and challenged) aspects of ourselves!
At least, that's what we tell ourselves, but all too often these lofty goals fade into obscurity by February. Our self-esteem takes a hit, making us less likely to try again. That is, until next year... and so the cycle continues.
But creating (and sustaining) good habits doesn’t have to be a painful, yearly punishment. Science shows us that following a particular approach to forming good habits leads to success. And best of all, it doesn’t require the willpower and conscious attention that you may think it does. The word ‘habit’ means a subconscious behaviour, aka, something effortless. So all you have to do is wire it in.
Creating (and sustaining) good habits doesn’t have to be a painful, yearly punishment. Science shows us that following a particular approach to forming good habits leads to success.
To get you off on the right foot, we’ve curated 5 scientifically-backed tips to help you seamlessly turn new behaviours and routines into habits and enrich the automatic programming of your life.
1. Start small
One of the biggest things to derail New Year’s resolutions is the belief that we need to create huge change as quickly as possibly, and then somehow sustain it through willpower.
Maybe you’re thinking of going from 0 gym sessions a week to a workout every other day. Maybe you’re going to cut out all sugar and carbs, overnight, and get up at 6am every day to meditate, despite the fact you’ve never done it before. Unless you have superhuman determination, this probably won't work.
Another mistake is to try to tackle multiple things at once, which will deplete your reserves of willpower even faster. So instead of launching into several behaviours at once, pick one and make it habitual before you begin the second.
2. Attach the habit to a trigger
Another mistake is to try to tackle multiple things at once, which will deplete your reserves of willpower even faster.
Have you ever noticed that many of your habits have a trigger?
Perhaps you light a cigarette after a meal or grab a snack when relaxing in front of a movie. The association between the two behaviours can be so strong that it’s virtually automatic.
You can use this to your advantage by attaching a positive behaviour to an existing automatic behaviour. For example, you can introduce some meditative mindfulness when brushing your teeth, or listen to an audiobook when you walk your dog. Over time, you won’t even have to think about it. The one action will naturally roll into the next.
3. Create an accountability system
Having some sort of accountability system in place – whether that’s a friend who’s working towards a similar goal, or simply writing your progress in a notebook – will increase the likelihood that you’ll stick to your goal.
It’s also a great way to track your success or, if you’d like to take the pressure off completely, simply track the ‘experiment’. An experiment can never fail – only get different results, so there’s a lot less stress if you slip up.
Any feedback will be helpful to you, to identify roadblocks and also keep score of your small wins.
4. ...Celebrate your small wins
It’s human nature to pay more attention to mistakes and failures than successes. Unfortunately, this has a catastrophic effect on our motivation and actually increases the likelihood that we’ll fail again, in the future.
It’s human nature to pay more attention to mistakes and failures than successes. Unfortunately, this has a catastrophic effect on our motivation.
Celebrating any successes, even small ones, will activate the reward circuitry in your brain. This releases chemicals that make you experience feelings of accomplishment and pride. In turn, these emotions will empower you to take further action, leading to even bigger successes.
So give yourself some love for any step you take in the right direction, regardless of how small it is!
5. Design your environment
If you want to build and maintain your good habits, you first need to have a clear idea about your triggers and obstacles.
Our physical environment drives a lot of our behaviour – conscious and subconscious. For example, if you have a plate of cookies next to your kettle, it’s likely that your hot drinks are come with a sugary snack.
If you want to create an environment that fosters changes, change your environment. If sweets are a temptation, get rid of them or move them out of sight. If you want to read more, leave a pile of books next to where you sit, and move the TV remote to the opposite side of the room. These simple adjustments can make the world of difference.
New Year's resolutions have become a strange kind of endurance test that so many of us fail. Although the intention is pure, it's clear that our approach is lacking. Getting started with new habits in a more thoughtful and sustainable way will increase the likelihood that we'll get through the initial, difficult period, and create effortless habits that bring even greater success into our lives.
Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash