It's that time of the year, and we set our new year resolutions. But, before you set your new year resolutions, let me ask you one question: did you achieve last year's resolution? I found a statistic that showed that 35% of people kept all their 2020 resolutions. That's not bad! 49% kept some, and 16% kept none. So, what's the secret to achieving your new year's resolutions?
In this article, I will focus on resolutions that intend to form new habits. The framework I will use is the same as in The Book of TRUST and in my Trust Habits Workshops to help form habits that build trustworthiness. I also used it in the book Worst Diet Ever to help me lose weight and live healthy (and that's how I lost 32 pounds myself…).
In this article, I will show you how to form habits successfully to achieve your 2022 resolutions.
Before I dive into the 16 tips I will give you here, let me define what a habit is. A habit is something that you do automatically, without your brain having to think about it. Your brain can think about other things consciously while you practice the habit subconsciously. It is easier to continue practicing an established habit than stop it.
Without further ado, here are the 16 tips:
Limit the number of habits you want to form. The more habits you try to form, the more likely you will form none of them. The best is to form only one new habit every year. To be clear, when I say "form a habit," I also include stopping a bad habit.
Commit to it. The Association of Training and Development did a survey and found that if you know your goal, you have only a 10% probability of achieving it. If you commit, the probability increases to 25%. To make such a commitment, you must also know why you want to form this habit, and the reason has to be strong enough.
Make it specific. "I want to lose weight" is not specific enough. "I want to lose 32 pounds" is specific. Be specific.
Make it measurable and gradable. You must measure your progress (not only the final goal) to see that you are making progress. Also, set criteria to grade yourself on whether you are on your way to achieving the goal or not.
Choose an achievable goal (but not too easy). Use the Goldilocks rule. We are motivated if our goal is not too hard and not too easy. It has to be just right to motivate us through the finish line.
Set a timeline, but also include milestones. If you only focus on the final goal line, you might find out close to it that you will not make it. Instead, break it down into multiple milestones that will help you see if you are on your way to meet the final deadline. If you've set a timeline, your probability of meeting it increases to 40%.
Make a plan. It's not enough to know what your goal (or new habit) is. You must decide how to achieve it. What are the steps? What is the effort that's required? If you have a plan, your probability of success goes up to 50%. That's as far as you can go by yourself.
If you are trying to eliminate a bad habit, remember that there is a trigger that causes you to practice it. Replace the bad habit with a good one triggered by the same trigger. If you crave dessert after dinner, the trigger is the end of the meal. The trigger still exists. Replace it with eating (or drinking) something sweet but low in calories (such as sugar-free gum). Fill the void left by eliminating a bad habit with the new good habit.
Reduce the friction for implementing the new habit or increase the friction for practicing the bad old habit. A slight change in the level of friction (difficulty) could make or break a habit.
Make it mindless. Don't look for things to make the new habit interesting and exciting. On the contrary—make it boring and mindless. Remember that your goal is for your brain not to think about it.
Habit conditioning. Take an established habit and make it contingent upon practicing the new habit. Only once you practice your new habit will you be "allowed" to practice the established habit.
Tech support. Use the technology around you (your computer, phone, smartwatch) to remind you (or trigger) to practice the new habit. Your calendar, alarm clock, and other applications can help you.
Log your effort. Logging it makes it real, and it becomes a visible reminder that will keep you honest and motivate you to continue and practice the new habit.
Use extrinsic motivation. You will practice the habit as long as your motivation is stronger than the effort. Intrinsic motivation is created by a natural link between your action and the desired outcome. You eat less and exercise more so you live healthily, look better, and feel better. Extrinsic motivation is created by an artificial link between the action and the motivator. I couldn't play a computer game until I exercised on the treadmill. Intrinsic motivation often has delayed gratification, which is why it's not motivating enough. Use extrinsic motivation with immediate gratification to motivate you.
Use an accountability partner. This will make it more uncomfortable not to meet your goals (because you promised someone else). Update your accountability partner regularly on your progress, not only at the end of the year. According to the Association for Training and Development, this will increase the probability of achieving your goal to 95%.
How long should you continue the effort? Think of it as pressing the starter button in your car. You must keep pressing until the engine runs by itself. Some research suggested that it takes 66 to develop a habit, but this might not be the case for you. The number of repetitions, how hard it is to practice, and how often you practice the new habit will all impact how long will take. Do it until you feel that it has become a new habit, that it's done automatically, that you don't have to think about it anymore, and when it becomes easier to continue to practice this habit than to stop it. And then, do it just a little longer. Only then will you be able to let go of many of the tools described above.