Why Habits Might Be The Missing Link To Finally Achieving Your New Year's Resolutions

woman achieving new year's resolutions by building new habits

It’s that time of year again. With the New Year just around the corner, our minds naturally turn to the goals and resolutions we’re eager to tackle next year – but how many of us actually achieve them?

Rest assured, if you’ve ever fallen short of achieving a New Year’s resolution, you’re not alone. Around 91% of people find themselves in the same boat. 

Sources also indicate that 95% of New Year’s resolutions are fitness-related, yet only 10% of people believe their resolutions will endure after just three months. Some of the most common health-related New Year’s resolutions include “lose weight”, “exercise more”, “improve fitness”, and “eat healthier”.

So, what’s the missing link between setting goals and actually achieving them?

Habits: the magic missing link

Enforcing habits might just be the missing ingredient in the recipe for New Year’s resolution success. Psychology has explained that habits can actually be more effective than traditional goal-setting. This is because they operate on a different neurological and psychological level, relying on ingrained routines and automatic behaviors. Once formed, habits require significantly less conscious effort and willpower compared to traditional goal-setting approaches.

How do habits form?

The science bit

According to Charles Duhigg’s research in “The Power of Habit”, habits form a neat loop in your brain – cue, routine, reward – creating a neurological pathway that reinforces the behavior, and makes them stick.

Consistency is key

Consistency is the real MVP here. It takes around 66 days to wire a habit into your brain, so keep at it. Repeating a behavior consistently for an extended period, approximately 66 days on average, reinforces the neural pathways associated with the habit, making it automatic.

So how can you implement lasting habits?

Start small

Renowned author James Clear emphasizes the significance of starting small in his bestselling book, “Atomic Habits.” Micro-habits, tiny yet consistent actions, serve as powerful building blocks for creating lasting behavioral changes. Research supports this approach, indicating that small, manageable habits are more likely to lead to long-term success.

For example, if your goal is to exercise more, instead of going from an almost sedentary lifestyle to aiming for an ambitious goal of working out twice a day for an hour each time, start small and build upon the duration and frequency of the workouts as you go. 

The most important thing is to be consistent, even if the action is tiny, because this is what ingrains the habit. You can start with something as small as 10-20 minutes of exercise a day, or 3-4 times per week, to start wiring the habit into your brain. You can then increase the duration and frequency of your workouts at intervals that feel achievable to you.

Similarly, if your goal is to lose weight, setting an unrealistic goal of losing a significant amount of weight in a short period of time and significantly restricting your diet may not lead to the accomplishment of your goal. Instead, start small by selecting a realistic timeframe to lose your desired amount of weight, and incorporate simple daily changes to your habits and routines, such as eat more proteins, fruit and vegetables and less unhealthy, high-sugar, processed foods (rather than cutting them out completely), and incorporate one form of exercise you enjoy into your routine. 

It’s important to not go from zero to one hundred. James Clear suggests following “The 1% Rule.” Aim for 1% improvement daily to accumulate substantial progress over the long term. This will result in a higher success rate and more lasting change.

Tie your habits to existing cues

In their best-selling books, BJ Fogg and James Clear have both emphasized the power of “habit stacking”, which essentially means using one habit as an “anchor” to keep the new one in place. The technique is to associate your new habits with existing cues, habits or routines.

According to Clear, the habit stacking formula is: “After/before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].” For example, “After I have my cup of coffee in the morning, I will meditate for two minutes.” 

Alternatively; if you have the existing habit of watching television in the evening, and you would like to build a habit of doing bodyweight exercises, after you switch your show on, get in the habit of incorporating a quick set of exercises, such as squats, lunges, or push-ups.

Focus on consistency, not perfection

Aim for consistency rather than perfection. Occasional lapses are normal, but the key is to get back on track. Expecting a perfect track record can lead to demoralization and decrease your motivation levels. Set realistic expectations. Consistent efforts build habits, even if progress is gradual.

Reward yourself

Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Rewards reinforce positive behavior and create a positive association with your new habits, making them more enjoyable and sustainable.

In Conclusion

Many of us focus only on the end-goal, and neglect to consider the small steps we need to take to get there. Habits are the bridge that gets us from where we are now to where we want to be. 

Start small and be consistent – this will allow you to successfully form healthy and achievable habits. This way, you can more easily and effortlessly reach your goals and finally achieve your New Year’s resolutions.

Here’s to a healthy, habit-forming, goal-smashing New Year!