We often start the year with a sense of optimism ready to make resolutions that involve big changes. How many New Year’s resolutions have you made in your life? How many of those have you successfully kept? Studies show that somewhere between 80-90% of resolutions fail. That’s not encouraging! The good news is science can also provide guidance on how to create new habits and maintain change over time.
To create a new habit you must pick a small action to start with. “Get more exercise” is not small. “Eat healthier” is not small. This is a big reason why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Instead of “Exercise everyday” make a small goal to “take a 20-minute walk twice a week”. It helps if you can attach that goal to a previous habit. If you check the mail each day, then plan to walk for 20 more minutes after checking the mail. Checking the mail now reminds you to keep the new habit. The first 3 to 7 times of a new habit are the hardest to complete, so make it easy.
Put up a note to remind yourself and hold yourself accountable. If you miss a walk, it doesn’t mean you failed. It means that you just do it the next day instead.
Stories we tell ourselves about our own behavior have a huge impact on how successful we are at sticking to a new habit. Instead of telling yourself that you hate exercise, but you will do it anyway because it is good for you, try reversing the story. You don’t have to tell yourself you love exercise because that might not be true, but you could say instead, “I am a person that walks for 20 minutes twice a week.” Once that habit is established it becomes a true statement, then you can build on to your goal. You can become a person who walks for 45 minutes twice a week, or 30 minutes 3 times a week or whatever it is you want to become.
By creating a new habit through small achievable steps and creating new stories for yourself you can meet your goals in the New Year or any time.