Every New Year brings with it a host of resolutions that we plan to implement to make ourselves better people. But we all know how hard it is to keep up with these resolutions. Many of us give up on them within a few weeks.
Why? It often has to do with misplaced energy. While we may have the right idea about what we want to improve, it is the “how are we going to achieve it” piece that is lacking.
Fortunately, science can teach us how to achieve lasting behavioral changes – and it starts by tapping into the power of habits.
Relying purely on willpower to achieve our goals will often result in failure. Setting our sights on quick fixes to long-standing problems won’t work either. But, if we create a system that transforms desired behaviors into default behaviors, success becomes much more likely.
Here are two science-backed reasons to switch out our list of resolutions in 2023 for a list of good habits.
#1. Goals are lofty, habits are bite-sized
Our desire for a ‘fresh start’ makes it tempting to set highly ambitious resolutions. For instance, after a particularly decadent Christmas, we may feel the need to set strict weight loss resolutions. However, when the New Year comes around we often fall off the motivation wagon because the goal was unrealistic in the first place.
Instead of chasing an arbitrary weight loss goal, consider adopting a habit of doing a light 20-minute workout every other day for the first three months of the year. Choose something that is sustainable and effective.
This is the beauty of creating habits. We can start with a minimum viable action, like going for a walk every day or doing light stretching daily, and build on it progressively. The idea is to incorporate a desired behavior into our roster of default behaviors. Once the change is made, we can move on to more challenging behaviors like going to the gym or running a 5K.
Psychologist Torsten Martiny-Huenger suggests another way we can create lasting habits: by using ‘if-then’ action planning.
According to Martiny-Huenger, ‘if-then’ action planning is a way for us to ‘hack’ our brain’s associative linking architecture. All we have to do is tie a desired behavior to a situational cue that will serve as a ‘trigger.’
So, instead of relying on a random moment to trigger our action, we can decide something like, “everyday before starting work I will do five sit-ups.” This will ensure that we execute our minimum viable action.
“The practical advice is to link the intended behavior to situational cues that provide good opportunities to initiate them,” says Martiny-Huenger. “Such if-then planning is not magic and it will not lead to successfully implementing the intended behavior every time, but it will increase the likelihood of completing them.”
#2. Goals take superhuman effort, habits are automatic
Most people believe, somewhat mistakenly, that our behaviors are prompted by feelings and desires. We assume that we brew our morning espresso because we feel tired or underslept. In many cases, however, the truth is that our morning cup, or other similar routines, are simply matters of habit.
This misattribution to ‘inner states’ rather than habits was brought to light in a recent study led by psychologist Asaf Mazar.
“Habits are important because they can be activated automatically without conscious thought, which means that habits are often the default response we revert to unless we have a strong desire to act differently,” he explains.
According to another study by his colleague, Wendy Wood, habits form nearly 40% of our daily behaviors. This presents a remarkable opportunity to ‘automate’ our desired behaviors and turn them into actions that we can execute almost passively.
A useful tip Mazar shares for cultivating desired habits is to reduce the ‘friction’ between oneself and the desired behavior. Friction refers to minor obstacles that stand in the way of our intended actions. For instance, instead of relying on our self-control when trying out a healthier diet, we can simply stop stocking processed snacks in our kitchen and switch them out for tasty but healthy snacks.
“We find that friction can exert an outsize influence on behavior, but people tend to underappreciate its effects when trying to change their habits,” he explains.
Creating New Year’s resolutions isn’t a bad thing, but we need to do a better job of giving our resolutions a fighting chance. Building better habits can ensure that our goals, and our self-esteem, remain stable throughout the year.
Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/traversmark/2022/12/27/a-psychologist-explains-why-new-habits-work-better-than-new-years-resolutions/?sh=53b126314582