5 Steps to Form New Habits for Your 2023 New Year’s Resolutions
It’s that time when you start thinking about your new year’s resolutions. You are ready to commit, but you might also be ready to give it up by the end of January. You are not sticking with a resolution because you are not trying to form a new habit that will allow you to achieve that resolution. “Losing 10 pounds” is not enough. Developing the right habits that will cause you to lose those 10 pounds is.
The author uses the process described in this article to form habits that change behaviors, build trust, and transform organizations. However, this process works to form any habits and change any behavior.
Setting your goals is only the “what.” Knowing what you want to do. We call them resolutions because of the added “resolve” that makes us committed to achieving those goals. No doubt that commitment is important to achieve the goal, but still, it’s not enough without a new habit.
Without further ado, here are the five steps to form a new habit.
Step 1: Choose ONE goal
It’s hard to choose only one goal. There are so many things that we want to achieve next year. The biggest mistake you can make is to choose too many goals. Forming a new habit is hard. Forming multiple habits is impossible, and you will not form any. Choose one goal. Form one habit. Once it becomes a habit, you can focus on another goal and form another habit.
Step 2: Make it a SMART habit
The concept of SMART goals was developed in 1981 by George T. Doran. Abstract, non-specific, and possibly unclear goals will be harder to achieve. Therefore, make your goals SMART. “Losing weight” is not a SMART goal. “Reducing the daily calorie consumption to 1,500” is SMARTer. But not SMART enough. The habit you intend to form should be:
Specific: the what, who, and how of this habit
Measurable: how do I measure it? How will I know that I’m on the right track?
Achievable: we are motivated by goals that are not too easy or hard. Use the goldilocks rule: make it just right.
Relevant: will forming this habit achieve the goal you intend to achieve?
Time-bound: set a deadline. You must achieve something by when?
Step 3: Make it stick
Even if the new habit is not too hard to master, you can still make it easier. Use any or all of the following seven tools to make forming the habit easier:
Fill the void that might be left by a behavior you want to eliminate.
Reduce the friction associated with the new habit (or increase the friction associated with the behavior you want to abandon)
Make it mindless so you don’t have to think about it. Doing it at the same time every day or using the same process could make it mindless.
Condition a well-established habit in this new habit. If you have an established habit (A) and you want to form a new habit (B), then do A only once you’ve done B (note: conditioning it the other way around doesn’t help much).
Use technology. Whether a calendar, an alarm clock, or an app on your phone, some tools can help you by “prodding” you to exercise the new habit regularly.
Log your progress. It will motivate you to stay on track, especially if the log is constantly in your field of view.
Add extrinsic motivation. We do things because the motivation is stronger than the effort to do them. Sometimes the intrinsic motivation from the natural outcome of the effort (for example: feeling better due to losing weight) is not enough. Sometimes because the benefit is too far in the future. In this case, add extrinsic motivation, a benefit that is not the natural outcome of the effort (for example, I can practice my hobby only if my calorie intake for yesterday was within limits). You may ask yourself: am I doing it for the right reasons? The answer is no. But if it forces you to form a habit, once it becomes a habit, the effort will be low enough for you not to have to use extrinsic motivation anymore.
Step 4: Appoint an accountability partner
Research shows that knowing your goal, committing to it, setting a timeline, and even making a plan increases the probability of achieving that goal to only 50%. Not something to write home about. However, the same research claims that having regular “check-in” interactions with an accountability partner increases that probability to 95%. Word of warning, though. Don’t consider mutual accountability partnerships (“I’ll be your accountability partner, and you’ll be mine”) because those tend to transform into mutual “cutting corners” partnerships (“I’ll let you cut corners if you let me cut corners”). Your accountability partner should be external to your goal and the habit you plan to form, someone you can trust, and someone you care about disappointing (by not meeting your goals). The interaction with your accountability partner should be regular and predictable.
Step 5: How long?
Google the term “how long does it take to form a new habit?” and the top answers will be “66 days” (although that study gives a range of 18 to 254 days) and “the 21/90 rule” (exercise it for 21 days, and then continue for 90 more days). The real answer is neither. Multiple factors play into how long it will take to form a habit, including your personality, how important the new habit is to you, how easy it is to form, etc. There is also no hard line of when something becomes a habit. Your new activity becomes a habit when it is easier to continue performing than stop it. Brushing your teeth is a habit. Wearing your wristwatch on your left hand is a habit. They are harder to stop than to continue. At some point, stopping the habit for one day will be enough to abandon it completely. Later, stopping for one day will not be enough, but if you stop it for a week, you will abandon it. It becomes a habit when you can’t stop it anymore because of how awkward it feels.
The conclusion: you are the only person who can tell when you’ve acquired a new habit. Err on the side of continuing the effort until you feel you have reached the goal, and the habit is now much harder to stop than to continue.
Want to hear more? Listen to the podcast episode: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/s7e12-5-steps-to-form-new-habits-for-your-2023-new/id1569249060?i=1000590543311
Dr. Yoram Solomon is a trust expert, author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a two-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that help build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events.