New Year’s resolutions are supposed to correlate with the renewal of the year and its seasonal cycle; new beginnings are the cue for a person to grow and change. However, despite people’s best intentions, a study performed by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that about two-thirds of people in the U.K. and Australia gave up on their New Year’s resolutions within the first month of 2021.
Not all hope is lost, however – humans are creatures of habit. If you’re having trouble with your New Year’s resolution, forming a habit can help you find time to put the work in and achieve your goals. Here are five tips for turning a behavior into a habit.
Set a realistic goal that you can measure.
Sometimes, the issue with a New Year’s resolution comes before you ever begin. If you define your goal as, “I am going to write a book this year,” there is very little direction to guide you in writing that book. Does it need an outline? How many chapters will it be? Do you want a first draft or an edited product? According to the American Psychological Association (APA), goals are more likely to be completed – no matter their difficulty – if their progress can be traced over time. In other words, if your goal is to “write a 1,500-word chapter within a month,” it’s easier, more manageable and more fulfilling to see your word count climb to 1,500 over time rather than not completing the book and failing your resolution because it wasn’t realistic and not as measurable as it could be.
Make a cue for working toward your resolution.
Why do people always brush their teeth in the morning when they wake up and at night before they go to bed? The true reasons are complex, but one part of it is that the action of brushing one’s teeth is attached to waking up and going to bed. According to the APA, habits that are built around a cue for performing an action can take weeks to break. If your goal is more of a lifestyle change than a single accomplishment, like starting an exercise regimen or beginning to meditate, try setting aside an hour or two before work or before bed to fulfill your New Year’s resolution. This way, your personal development is triggered by a cue that is part of your personal schedule.
Have fun with your New Year’s resolution.
However long it takes you to form a habit, there is no avoiding the repetition involved with rehearsing an action until it becomes reflexive. There is a real risk of getting bored of the work before it is solidified as a habit, so specially for creative pursuits, find ways to add variety to the process of building a habit. Instead of sewing a pincushion 30 times over, try turning old shirts into pillows or making a small drawstring bag. Even for resolutions like working out at the gym, break up the monotony by putting on a Netflix show while using the treadmill or the elliptical.
Invite other people to join you.
People are heavily influenced by the behaviors of those they associate themselves with, according to a study performed by the University of Chicago. If you let friends or loved ones join you in your New Year’s resolution, you can support each other in the endeavor, find new ways to socialize and make it even more likely that you achieve your goals.
Embrace flexibility in your plans.
Life, as a rule, is chaotic. While it is impossible to plan ahead for unforeseen circumstances, there are ways you can keep up with your New Year’s resolutions in spite of things that can keep you from achieving what you set out to do. If your goal, for example, is to learn a new language, see how effective it is to study at different times of day. If you get called into work, you might still be able to study later at night or during work, depending on the job. The point is to be merciful with yourself and your goal – one little hiccup doesn’t have to mean the end of your resolution if you can find a way back onto the wagon.
Contact Miguel Naranjo by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @naranjo678.