For most of us, the new year’s resolution is something we never achieve. However, through minor changes to your existing habits, success comes surprisingly easy.
For those who have dragged themselves from the fugue of 2017, those who find themselves scaling a mountain of cigarette packets to glumly gaze at their love handles in the unclean bathroom mirror, the concept of the new year’s resolution seems to be a worthwhile one.
Except, it isn’t.
You see, the resolution is a fundamentally flawed beast, barely able to stand on its own legs, let alone run. In fact, researchers at the University of Scranton estimate that barely 10% of the bloody things live out the year. So, why do they fail? Surely it’s not our fault, right?
Well, sort of.
Ordinarily, resolutions look to eliminate a negative habit. Be it smoking, food painted in salt, or toxic relationships. Habits are fundamentally conditioned responses. As in, they follow what we already do. Example: Go the shop in the morning, get a coffee, buy bread, ogle barista. The reason why resolutions fail is that we eliminate the habit wholesale. What we need to do is create another in its place.
The great minds of B.J. Fogg and Charles Duhigg (who could also be the names of rival moonshine runners in The Dukes of Hazzard) believe that creating a new habit and, in turn, kicking the other one is the way to lasting success.
In fact, their findings can be boiled down to a three-step process.
Step One: Pick a small action. Go too big and you’ll fail. The “eat healthier” resolution is an automatic fail. It is far too broad. What you need is to control your servings of ambition. Yes, it feels like a capitulation, but the smaller it is, the better; a smoothie in lieu of eggs in the morning is exactly the flavor we’re seeking here.
Step Two: Attach this new action to a previous habit. Choose a habit that you already have that is well established; for example, if you swim in the mornings three days a week, don’t add more days, add more time to the existing swim. Or, if you park the car and walk to work, park the car further away. The existing walk connects the new habit to an existing one and feels like progress. Using either of the examples above, rename them to reflect the longer distance. Instead of walking to work, it should now be: walk the two miles to work.
Step Three: Make the new action easy for the first week. Because you’re trying to establish a conditioned response, you need to perform it up to seven times before it sticks. To aid this, you should make it as easy as possible. Again, not capitulation, you’re trying to rewire your brain. Visual tools help immeasurably in this case. Using the above example, set a reminder in your phone. All it has to do is to remind you to park a block further away. A block, as we all know, is nothing.
Implement the above three, anywhere up to seven days in a row, and you’re dangerously close to walking in that rarefied air of the minority that actually achieve their resolutions.
I’m proud of you already.