Life 101: How to Make Habits that Stick

Life 101: How to Make Habits that Stick

Well hello there, 2023. Maybe the new year came with fresh promises about the ways your life would get better this year. If you are like most of us, who talk big but falter on the follow-through, you may be frustrated by mid-February. Take, for example, our health goals. While the majority of New Year’s resolutions are health and fitness related, researchers discovered that most Americans are most likely to give up on these resolutions as early as mid-January. Daunting odds, right?

Thankfully, new research suggests that there is a better way! Instead of setting unreasonable or unreachable goals, only to disappoint yourself in short order, it might be wise to follow the advice of experts and make your new year’s goal a reality.

Remove Barriers

Most people that manage long-term success with resolutions have found a way to remove the pain points. Take, for example, research featured in the Wall Street Journal, based on anonymized information from 7.5 million mobile devices that were taken to fitness centers all over the country throughout February and March. According to the analysis, the average gym goer doesn’t stray too far to get their sweat on. In fact, the less they have to travel, the more likely they are to go with some regularity. Anything you can do to make your habit easy, close, and available will make it more likely you do it.

Start Small

Again and again, researchers suggest not going big. According to BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist at Stanford University, “It’s easier to create habits and change than most people think, and it’s faster than most people think. It can even be fun, if you do it in the right way.” The idea here is that you are more likely to reach big goals by building small, new habits that can get you there, step by step.

First, pick a habit you want, and then scale it down so that it’s super manageable. If you want to exercise more, commit to 5 push-ups every morning. In the case of meditating, it might be three calming breaths. The core principle is that the new habit becomes so simple there is no excuse not to do it, even if you are tired, busy, or distracted.

Pair it with a Current Habit

Another widely recommended hack is to attach the desired habit to a habit that is already well-established. So, if you are looking to build six-pack abs, doing a 1-minute plank pose every time you brush your teeth is a good road to success. While that may not sound like much, you can build on it, and the chances of expanding a small, regular habit are much higher than creating a 3-hour-a-day workout plan that is bound to be unattainable.

Make it Joyful

Neurologists suggest that creating a reward circuit in your brain is as easy as celebrating your successes. So each time you do the desired activity, you might give a robust fist pump, shout “yay!” at yourself internally (or out loud!), or sing Eye of the Tiger at full volume. Anything that helps you feel successful will help wire in the habit.

Make it Meaningful

Researchers have also demonstrated that those working on a life-changing goal are more likely to find success if the goal is underwritten by a value. To use the fitness example again: sure, everyone wants to be fit so they look good, but what if your fitness goal was tied instead to something that you deeply cared about? Perhaps you want to be fit so you can run around with your children, or live a long enough life to see one of them get married. By tying our desired habits to deep and meaningful values, we can tap into stores of strength we may not have known we had.

Be Compassionate

Compassion researcher Kristen Neff has demonstrated time and again that being hard on ourselves does not produce better results. It produces guilt and self-flagellation, but seldom the outcomes we really seek. Instead, try self-compassion. When you miss a target one day, you might try saying to yourself “Hey, that’s ok, today you were tired. We’ll try again tomorrow.” This might feel like letting yourself off the hook, but in our experience, kindness goes further than punishment.

Whatever your goals for yourself in the new year, we’ve got your back. Our team is here to offer support and guidance every step of the way. Get in touch to see how we can help.