As New Year’s Day is now in the rearview mirror, we can surmise that people are struggling to keep their resolutions. Indeed some may have already given up, perhaps with a determination that next year will be the year. A long-term study by the University of Scranton found that less than 10% of resolutions become part of our lives1.
Such a high failure rate at resolutions of our own making should give us pause. Why are we so bad at keeping resolutions? Research shows that it may come down to two primary things: how we frame our resolution2 and taking too big of a leap - too big of a behavior change at once.
Framing Your Resolution for Success
Framing the resolution comes down to our actions. Many resolutions are to stop a bad habit. Stop smoking, stop eating sweets, stop using social media. Those are incredibly difficult to stop because of triggers (conscious and unconscious) that provoke a response. It is more productive to create a new habit in its place, so there is a response, just not the bad habit. For example, instead of smoking, perhaps you chew gum. Instead of looking at social media, you pick up a book. You select a positive habit to replace the bad habit.
Creating Habits That Stick
Resolutions can be aspirational, but we should be realistic and recognize we may need to create small habits that inch us in the direction of our resolution. To improve the likelihood of sticking with new habits, we should form ones that are not major deviations from our current lifestyle. Making a 1% change may not be noticeable or something to brag about, but they can be far more meaningful in the long run.
Once we master a new habit, we create another small habit that gets us one step closer to our resolution. This becomes a continues cycle of improvement that empowers and helps us become the person we want. A marathon is completed with many small steps, not a few giant leaps. We should view our personal resolutions in a similar manner.
Today is the Best Day to Start
No matter what, today is the best day to start a habit that will improve your life. Why today? Because it isn’t tomorrow. When we are forming small habits, we don’t face uncomfortable or unnatural changes to our lifestyle. Hence, there is no reason to procrastinate the day of achieving our resolutions.
1. Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Did It, Forbes, Jan 1, 2013.
2. The Science Behind New Year’s Resolutions That Actually Stick, WSJ, Jan 27, 2023.
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