New Year, New Habits


Many people have given up on making New Year’s resolutions because they’ve grown tired of not being able to make them stick. I’ve even seen people defend that there’s no need for “a new year, a new you” attitude, because there’s nothing wrong with the “old” you!

And that’s true! But if you do believe that you have some areas needing improvement, an event or a milestone like a new year can be a good time to implement new habits. Mentally, it just seems like a good time to make a fresh start, and that can work in our favor. According to an article in “The New York Times,” here are 7 science-based strategies to help create new habits in the new year.

1. Think big picture. We’ve been told for years that goals need to be specific and manageable and measurable. So rather than saying, “I want to lose weight,” it’s better, in theory, to say “I want to lose ten pounds by the end of June.” 

But scientists suggest taking a different approach may work better. Think about next December 31—what changes will you be most grateful for making? (I like this—thinking about how something will feel if…) Then create an intention for the year. So, for example, if your goal is to reduce your stress, you can have some flexibility in that. If you try meditating for 10 minutes every day, and you hate it, you can try something else—like yoga or a gentle daily walk—rather than giving up on your goal completely.

2. Understand your bad habits. Science says the best way to change behavior is not to simply “break” a bad habit, but to transform it into a better one. To do this successfully, we need to understand what causes a behavior and what we get out of it.

Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” says there are 5 cues that trigger a habit: a time, a location, people, an emotion or a ritual. That’s fairly easy to figure out. The more perplexing piece is the reward that we get from our behavior. Take, for example, a person working in an office always having an afternoon snack. Is it real hunger? Boredom? Or a desire to socialize in the break room? Duhigg writes, “Any habit can be diagnosed and shifted. You need to give yourself time to really figure out the cues and rewards that are driving that behavior — and oftentimes the only way … is through a process of experimentation.”

3. Start small. Really small. In his book “Atomic Habits,” James Clear describes a 2-minute rule. If you want to read a book a month, for example, start by reading a page a day. Taking “the art of showing up” to a new level, he believes that even taking the tiniest first baby steps helps put a new habit on autopilot. He tells the story of a guy who wanted to work out every day. He would drive to the gym, work out for just a few minutes and then drive home. While that might sound frivolous, he was committed to doing it for 6 weeks. And little by little, he increased his time and became the guy who exercises daily!

4. Look for instant gratification. Experts say that new habits are easier to form if we give ourselves small “rewards” along the way. But the best rewards are intrinsic, not things we buy. (I love this, again, thinking about how something makes us feel!) 

Naming what you’re feeling helps build positive associations with the new activity—strong, accomplished, victorious, etc. If you’re not feeling an intrinsic reward, you may be doing the wrong activity. So if, for example, your goal is to volunteer more or exercise more, you must find something you enjoy doing. Clear says in “Atomic Habits”: “Choose the form of the habit that brings you joy in the moment. Because if it has some immediate satisfaction, you’ll be much more likely to repeat it in the future.”

5. Control your environment. My sister always says, “My willpower is at the store.” Meaning: if she doesn’t want to be tempted to eat foods she shouldn’t, she simply doesn’t buy them. Not having them in the house makes it easier to avoid indulging!

Science bears this out. The people who appear to have the best will power actually may be best at simply eliminating temptation. Want to shop less? Unsubscribe to promotional emails from retailers. Want to watch less TV? Unplug the thing. Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to embrace—then it becomes “normal behavior” and helps your new habits stick.

6. Plan for failure. No one is perfect. Despite our best efforts, at some point, we’re going to slip up. The key is to have a recovery plan. Experts recommend a couple of strategies. One is to write down any obstacles you foresee and decide in advance how you’ll cope (if you’re trying to drink less, for example, how will you deal with stressful times?). Another is to tell others what your goals are and how they can support you. Let your tribe help when you’re feeling exhausted or overwhelmed.

7. Celebrate often. Celebration tells our brain that something is beneficial and should be done more often, which definitely helps reinforce new habits. It doesn’t have to be grand—it could be anything from telling a friend you finally did something you’ve been putting off, or taking a sweaty selfie after a great workout. 

These celebrations can actually trick our brains into remembering something as more positive than we may otherwise have thought it was—and that makes us more likely to do it again! 

We could even send ourselves a thank-you note for our new behavior. Gratitude, authentic pride, hope, social connection, and compassion are the most effective emotions for promoting long-lasting changes in our behavior. All of these work better than shame, guilt or fear.

The most important emotion may be compassion. We need to be kind to ourselves as we endeavor to create new behaviors. “Habits are not a finish line to be crossed,” said Clear. “They’re a lifestyle to be lived.”


Category : Blog &Personal Growth Posted on January 8, 2019

One Comment → “New Year, New Habits”

  1. Karen Ball
    1 year ago

    Good article, Julie. Thanks for sharing it.


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