How to Hack Your New Year’s Resolution

A list of ways to make your resolution stick this year.

Happy New Year!  By now you have probably already made some resolutions.  Often these include changes that affect one’s health including losing weight, working out more and quitting smoking.  Unfortunately, we are all too unsuccessful at achieving these goals.  According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 9.2 % of people who made a resolution felt they were successful. This is dreary, but if you have made a resolution, take heart!  Below I have compiled a list of “hacks” that can make your chances of success much greater.

Understand Habits

First, we must understand habits and how to form or break them.  According to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, every habit consists of a cue, a routine and a reward. This loop starts with a trigger that tells your brain to go on autopilot through a routine and is then rewarded at the end. For example, a person wakes in the morning and brews some coffee (the cue) which then triggers them to smoke a cigarette (routine) and they feel calm and ready for the day (reward).  Duhigg also has a “Golden Rule of Habit Change” that will help people stop their addictive habits.  It states that if a person keeps the initial cue and reward but replaces the routine, change will occur.  Lastly, he states you need to believe in wanting to change and be properly motivated for it to occur. This can’t be understated.  You need to buy in to the change or it will not happen.

To develop a habit, you just need to institute the habit loop around your goal.  Develop a cue and reward for what you want to start doing and eventually it will become habit.  If you want to start working out, then first get a cue such as hearing your alarm clock or something as basic as lacing up your tennis shoes.  The reward can be as simple as the feeling you get after working out or you can set an external reward such as a punch card to treat yourself to something every 5 or 10 sessions. Once you understand the habit loop and see it in your life, you can use it to your advantage.

Focus on the Process not the Outcome (Be Specific)

Often when we make our resolution for the year, we make general statements such as “I want to lose weight” or “I want more money.”  These unfortunately are too broad and will easily fall by the wayside.  You need to be more specific (and realistic) and not just state the end goal.  Determine the the process by which you are going to attain that goal and make that your objective.  So, instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” you should say, “ I plan on getting cardiovascular exercise for an hour 3 times a week” or “I am going to increase my fruit and vegetable intake to 50% of what I eat.”  These are specific and attainable processes.  In doing this you are making yourself go through the process which you have more control over.  You can’t always control the outcome but by controlling the process you can make the outcome much more likely.

Focus on One Small Attainable Goal at a Time

All to often when we are making our New Year’s Resolution(s), we get very excited and shoot for the stars.  While the intentions are admirable, this unfortunately sets us up for failure.  We make the resolution too lofty or we make multiple resolutions which we cannot handle.  First, you need to start small.  Make a resolution which you will keep.  If the hour 3 times a week of exercise is something you cannot see yourself doing, then start smaller at 15 minutes three times a week.  After 1-2 months of success, you can increase the amount.  If the 50% of fruits and vegetables frightens you, then scale it down to something you feel is attainable and slowly increase it later.

You should also avoid making multiple resolutions and focus on one goal at a time.  The brain can become overwhelmed from the increase in stress from working on resolutions.  Following through with resolutions requires multiple decisions a week (sometimes a day) and this can cause decision fatigue if there are multiple resolutions being pursued.  Decision fatigue causes you to eventually make a poor decision which will be the downfall of the resolution.  So pick one behavior you want to modify and focus on it. Don’t try to quit smoking, decrease your alcohol, start exercising and eat right all at once. Pick one and focus on it, when you have conquered that one goal, then you can move on to the next (even if it’s not New Year’s Day).

Write it Down

Once you have decided on the one, small, attainable goal that focuses on the process, you need to write it down.  Putting pen to paper solidifies your commitment to the task. Seeing it in black and white can also be a reminder when things get tough.  You can go back to this notation and read back your goal. This can be done in a journal or something as simple as a sticky note.  Lastly, once you have written it down, put it somewhere to remind you of your commitment (Hint: this can be the cue in your habit cycle).

Tell Someone

After you have done all the above “hacks,” make sure you tell someone about your resolution.  The benefits of this are twofold.  First, it will again solidify the goal in your head as it is verbalized and secondly, it will create accountability.  Once another person hears your resolution, they can check up on you to see how you are doing.  This will also motivate you more because you will then have an external standard to live up to.  This can also be done through joining a group such as a running club or alcoholics anonymous.

Roll with the Punches

This last part will be tough to hear.  You WILL have a moment of failure with your resolution.  This is normal!  When (not if) this happens, you need to see it as a bump in the road and not a roadblock.  Roll with it, it’s okay.  When you hit a bump in the road, you get over it and keep going.  You don’t need to start over.  You pick it up where you left off and resume your new routine.

In light of the above , I’ll tell you my resolution.  I plan on reading at least a chapter of a book every night before going to bed (see how this is small and specific).  As above, I plan on hacking the habit loop to make this stick.  My cue will be plugging in my phone which will start the routine of picking up a book and reading.  My reward will be internal as I mostly read non-fiction and self improvement is a big motivation for me.  

With that, I hope that you have success in your New Year’s Resolution. By taking your resolution and running it through the hacks laid out above you will definitely increase your chances of success. Let me know what your resolution is for the new year in the comments below.  Feel free to pass this on to any friends who need it through any of the social media links below. Good luck and keep me posted!

Enjoy what you read? Like it, share it and leave a comment below.