How To Make New Habits Stick

By John Daum
January 10, 2023
Writing new years resolution

Did you make New Year’s resolutions? How’s it going? For some people, resolutions lead to breaking bad habits or building healthy new habits. But these success stories seem to be the exception, not the rule come February. How do you make new habits stick?

Despite sincere intentions and best efforts, resolutions are already beginning to unravel for many people. They are beginning to feel frustration and even guilt. These are people who genuinely want to make changes in their lives. What’s the deal?

Let’s talk about expectations and bring in a behavior expert to help us reach our goals.

Are you a “new year, new you” person? Sure, the new year can be an ideal time for a fresh start, but expecting to overhaul your life as of January 1st could be a setup for a letdown. 

Improving our quality of life should be something we think about and work on year-round. Consider adopting a “new day, new way” mentality. How do we begin to build lasting habits any day of the year?

Enter James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. Published in 2018, it remains Amazon’s number-one book on organizational behavior. The book contains a wealth of insights.

Let’s pull a few key principles to help us make better “resolutions.”

  1. Avoid big, broad, vague goals and embrace small, specific, incremental changes. Instead of “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to lose weight,” make your goal simply to bring fruit to snack on at work. (Now, you’re also avoiding the vending machine.)
  1. Set yourself up for success by making your new habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. Put fruit you enjoy in an easy-to-access (unavoidable) place. Make fruit convenient. Make the snacks you want to avoid an inconvenience. 

Let’s say you want to get more exercise. What sets you up for success? You could get up at 5 AM, put on workout clothes you had to buy, drive to the gym, and walk on a treadmill for 45 minutes with strangers. 

Or, you could walk around the neighborhood with your spouse after dinner and chit-chat. 

I hear you saying, “But I need a grueling workout!” One of the main points of Atomic Habits is this: if you’re likely to quit the treadmill after a month, but you’re likely still going for walks after six months, which goal is more beneficial for your health? (Once going for a daily walk is a true habit, you can add something else to your routine.)

  1. Our identity is bound up in our habits. We are what we repeatedly do. Clear encourages readers to start from the inside and work their way out to small, sustainable choices that align with their identity. What’s Clear getting at?

Consider this powerful example from Atomic Habits.

Two individuals want to quit smoking. During lunch, a coworker offers both of them a cigarette. One person replies, “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.” The other person responds, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker.” Which person do you believe has the best chance of successfully quitting?

Here’s one last important piece of goal-setting advice. Don’t have an “all or nothing” approach to goals. Build rewards and “cheat days” into your system. Accept the fact that you might miss a walk or have a moment of weakness at the vending machine. Leave yourself some “wiggle room” so that your choices have a chance to become true, lasting habits. 

If your resolve dissolves by mid-January, it might not be because of will-power. Set goals that will truly work for you and you’ll have success working toward your goals. 

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