Research-Backed Ways to Actually Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions
Think Habit, Not Resolution!
December 26, 2018
By Elaine Chen
As the new year is fast approaching, many of us want to shed the old and start fresh. Some of us had an amazing year filled with happy memories to look back on… some of us had a difficult one and still carry weight from loved ones lost or painful memories. Either way, the new year presents an opportunity for self-reflection and goal setting. It is well known that most people who make New Year’s resolutions eventually break them. In fact, a survey done by time management firm FranklinCovey found that a third of those who make a resolution won’t even make it to the end of January!
Here at Fitbod, we are huge devourers of data and research. Our app runs on an algorithm that incorporates more than 35 million data points to give each and every user a personalized workout every time they open the Fitbod app. In thinking about New Year’s resolutions, our approach is similar… look at the science behind what works for making changes to our lives, both big and small. Here’s a list of our advice for resolutions, backed by authors and research we respect and follow.
Before thinking about where you want to go, you have to understand where you are today. Google Dictionary says self-awareness means a “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives and desires”. In choosing New Year’s resolutions that you will actually keep, you need to understand your past actions, decisions and behavior. As we’ll discuss next, attainable resolutions require a change in habits, which requires understanding and identifying your routines, cues and triggers.
Think habit, not resolution.
Common New Year’s resolutions include losing weight, exercising more, eating better, saving more, quitting smoking and the list goes on… We make resolutions in order to change something in our present lives that we aren’t 100% satisfied with. William James, often called the “Father of American Psychology” says that our lives are “but a mass of habits”. That means that we need to be altering our old habits to meet our resolutions.
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains how habits work using the habit loop. The habit loop is a cue which leads to a routine which leads to a reward and often generates a craving which further drives the loop. Duhigg describes how habits are so powerful because they create these neurological cravings. To change a habit, one uses the same cue and gets the same reward but alters the routine.
As an example, say your resolution is to exercise more, which requires carving out say 30 minutes 3 times/week to go to the gym or for a run. To carve out 30 minutes, you would have to figure out how you currently spend your time and what routines you could replace with 30 minutes of exercising. If you realize that your habit after work is to go home, turn on the TV and prepare dinner… you could replace turning on the TV with exercising and get the same reward of a nice dinner afterward. As you repeatedly replace TV time with exercising, your old neurological patterns get overridden by new patterns and exercising in replacement of watching TV becomes a behavior done with little or no conscious thought.
Focus on and celebrate small wins.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu says that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step” and that absolutely applies to New Year’s resolutions. Rather than making a huge broad-sweeping resolution such as “I will lose 25 pounds”, focus on small changes in your routines such as “I will exercise every Monday/Wednesday/Friday for 30 minutes after work before dinner” as per example above. For every 30 minute workout completed, track and celebrate the win! The simple act of logging the workout could be a reward in your brain that tells it this routine/loop is worth remembering for the future. Or the reward could be a nice dinner.
Eventually, additional rewards such as endorphins, weight loss, better health, increased energy, etc. come along as part of the exercise habit. But rather than focusing on these larger rewards, focus on the small changes. As Duhigg’s fellow author James Clear says, “if you can get 1% better each day, you can end up with some very remarkable results in the long run”.
Incorporate your environment.
Duhigg says that to change a habit, you use the same cues and get the same rewards but alter your routine. The more obvious and familiar the cues, the easier it is to identify and the easier it is to substitute actions. Clear calls this the Visibility Method and gives the example of flossing… instead of hiding floss in a drawer, he switched the location to a bowl with pre-made flossers that he kept right next to his toothbrush. Since he brushed his teeth daily, having the floss next to his toothbrush was such an obvious cue, it became easy to add to his routine.
Believe in yourself.
Our last piece of advice (for this article) is to believe in yourself. Clear calls it Identity-Based Habits… Clear says that “to change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself”. If your resolution is to wake up earlier, then the final step in making that resolution long-lasting is to change who you believe you are and believe that you are the type of person who wakes up early, who is an early bird. Once your resolution becomes about your identity, the change becomes permanent. You start wanting to prove to yourself with small wins that you are who you believe you are and the results add up to something great.
What are your New Year’s resolutions? One of the biggest takeaways in Duhigg’s book is that the real power of habit is “the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be”. By taking it one step at a time, know that you have the power to change your life and evolve into the person you want to be!
Kick-start your New Year's fitness resolution now with Fitbod!
Clear, James; “Atomic Habits”; 2018; Cornerstone
Clear, James; https://jamesclear.com/habits-visibility-method
Clear, James; https://jamesclear.com/identity-based-habits
Duhigg, Charles; “The Power of Habit”; 2012; Random House
Eyal, Nir; “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”; 2014; Penguin