Understanding How You Build Habits & Make Resolutions Successful

Are you making any resolutions this New Year’s? Every year we are encouraged to make positive changes in our life, and every year 80% of all those resolutions fail within the first six weeks. It’s an uninspiring statistic –– we know. However, what if our inability to stick to our big January goals has more to do with the process of forming habits than sheer resolve? In this blog, we help you understand how habits work and the best ways to successfully form healthy ones for the new year.

How do we build habits?

In his podcast, “The Science of Making & Breaking Habits,” Dr. Andrew Huberman suggests that much of our behaviour comes from our innate capacity to build largely unconscious habits. With the strengths of its learned behaviours, the brain can be a tricky partner in trying to do something new. For better or worse, many habits we have cultivated are made without setting goals or having any thoughts; we are hardwired to create routines.

Many psychologists differentiate between two different kinds of habits, identity-based and outcome-based. Identity-based habits affect who you are and how you are perceived. These can be eating healthy, being fit, or being outdoorsy. Outcome-based habits reflect a clear achievement, such as getting a promotion or going to the gym three times a week. Understanding the differences between these two kinds of habits is important because they work in tandem toward your goals or resolutions.

Many New Year’s resolutions fail because they have a goal associated with an identity-based habit like being fit or eating healthy. This is difficult because there is no plan for creating this new grand habit, and feelings of failure are far more likely. You can use outcome-based habits to make incremental changes that reflect your larger goals and increase positive feelings and dopamine production –– which will help you continue forward.

Your New Year’s resolutions can succeed with small positive steps.

Understanding how our brains work can give us a great road map for achieving our resolutions this coming year. With some patience and perseverance, your resolutions will simply become a habit.

1. Create small quality goals that connect with you

To create identity-based habits, you will need to create high-quality goals which act as incremental achievements that can help keep you motivated while you change. If you want to be a fit person, some of the most rewarding goals are creating small outcome-based habits like taking a long walk after dinner, exercising with a rec league team, or learning a new morning mobility stretch.

Over time, meeting these small goals creates small habits that can add up to achieving a big goal, like getting in shape! Setting these types of goals can help you succeed in your resolutions. Remember, healthy changes are easier to accomplish when they are incremental.

2. Have a realistic perspective

Did you know it takes anywhere from 18-240 days to create a new habit? Lally, Jaarsveld et al. discovered this immense fluctuation in habit formation in their study, “How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.”

When we set a resolution, we have motivation—but after encountering slow progress and obstacles, we lose our enthusiasm. Shifting our perspective has a big impact on our success.

When you create your goals for 2023, make sure you have contemplated them seriously and are ready to commit; all changes take time! Setting incremental achievements and allowing yourself to make mistakes is a big part of forming successful habits. Imperfection is part of the process, so embrace it!

3. Find unique ways to achieve your goals

We are all different, and there isn’t one tried and true way to meet your resolutions. Allow yourself to try different ways to incorporate your resolution into your daily routine and find strategies that are unique to you! While you might hate lifting weights, you might find that joining a recreational sports league is a perfect way for you to get more active. Be open to finding creative ways to meet your goals and allow yourself room to explore without judgment.

4. Allow yourself to fail

Not meeting your goals every time and in the specific way you want to isn’t a reason to declare failure. In fact, the shame of not meeting your goals can de-motivate you to try again. Building relapse into your goal framework will allow you to bounce back and reassess to reach your target!

5. Link your goals to things you enjoy doing

If you love watching movies, work on developing a habit of walking on a treadmill while enjoying your favourite film! When we link desired behaviours that are difficult to things we enjoy, we can create positive associations that will help us maintain and meet our resolutions! It is far easy to create outcome-based habits when we already enjoy something about them; creating those links (i.e. less coffee will help you have a better sleep which will make you more motivated to attend your favourite morning yoga class more often) will inform your small goals that build towards your resolution (become a yoga instructor).

You can achieve your goals, but only when you are ready!

Contemplating a goal you want to achieve is only the first step in creating a new habit in your life. The truth is our bodies take time to form new neural pathways and habits; this can deplete our drive to incorporate something new into everything we do every day without thought.

Sit down and reflect on your resolutions and try to map the small outcome-based habits you can try to achieve to meet your long-term goal. If you want to be a creative person, think about classes you can take at your local studio or try to set up a designated area with everything you need ready to use; if you want to eat healthier, get a meal kit delivered to you, take a cooking class, or delete your delivery apps –– the context of our goals will help us form new habits whether big or small.

Don’t feel pressured to make changes simply because it is a new year. Meeting our goals is a hard process that requires lots of determination. When you are ready to make positive changes, that drive will help you continue forward.

Meet your resolutions one step at a time.

This New Year’s, we hope you build small healthy habits that make you joyful. Every resolution can be more successful by understanding the science behind forming habits and meeting your goals. Happy New Year, Saskatchewan!