Why I Don’t Set New Year’s Resolutions

Now that the January 1st hype is basically over, let’s dive deeper in to it to keep you going strong. How many New Year’s Resolutions have you made in your life?  And how many of those resolutions have you victoriously accomplished?  Evidence from University of Scranton Psychology has determined less than 10% of resolutions are actually achieved.  How defeating is that!? Ugh.

There is a lot of pseudo-science advice floating around this time of year, so I thought I’d share the actual science behind how to be successful with this.  Instead of calling it “New Year’s Resolutions”, I like to think of it as “New Year’s Habits”. Not as glamorous and a little more plain sounding, but the successful results you are seeking are within the science of habits.

The good news is you are already a pro at making habits, so this is not that hard to do (you can do this). If you think of all the things you do in your day-in and day-out, you have habits, hundreds of them.

According to behavioral change and habit experts BJ Fogg and Charles Duhigg, you have to follow these three steps to be successful in getting the results you are looking for:

  1. You will pick a small habit/action.  However, most New Year’s Resolutions are not small.  For example, “Get more exercise” might sound small, but it is not small. “Eat healthier” is not a small habit either. And both of these are not specific whatsoever. This is THE MAIN reason why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. It has to be a really small, very specific habit change for it to work. Instead of “Get more exercise” it will be important to get really specific and choose small habits such as “I will park farther away from entrances when I run errands to get more steps in” or “I will take the stairs to get to my office, not the elevator, 5 days this week”, or get an activity tracker to “walk 2,000 steps more than my baseline 4 days this week”. What small action/habit will you be working on?
  2. You will attach the new habit/action to a previous habit/action. Think about a habit you already have that is rooted in your lifestyle. For instance, if you already walk the dog daily, then adding on 10 more minutes to the established walk attaches the new habit to an existing one (and your dog will love it too). The daily ritual of walk the dog now becomes the stimulus for the new response or habit of walking 10 more minutes.  Or another example might be while you are waiting on water to heat up for coffee or tea in the morning, you are making a healthy smoothie for breakfast.  Can you think of a new habit/action that you can attach to a current habit/action you already do?
  3. You will make the new action/habit easy for the first week. Since you are trying to set in stone a new habit, you need to practice the new habit with the existing habit about 7 times for it to adhere to your lifestyle. To help you through this week long phase make the new habit as smooth and easy as possible for yourself. Little reminders or a easy prep work can be a nice touch, such as writing a note and sticking it to your dog’s leash that says “walk for 30 minutes”. Or you might be pre-loading the blender the night before by putting smoothie ingredients in the pitcher and sticking it in the fridge so your healthy breakfast is quick and easy in the morning.  What is one way you can make your new habit a little bit easier on yourself for seven days?
If you practice these three steps for seven days, your new habit is unshakable and unstoppable!  Keep going past the seven days, and when it doesn’t feel challenging anymore, that is when you can add on.  There is a lot of shifting, mindfulness, and awareness that goes on when creating new habits, so be sure to TUNE IN. First we create the habit, then the habit creates us.
Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

Author Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

More posts by Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC

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