According to Forbes, only 8% of Americans keep their New Year’s resolutions. We’re only about a quarter of the way into the year. How is yours going? The great part is that even if you’ve been a little less dedicated than you planned, it’s not too late! Social scientists offer some simple suggestions to tweak your circumstances, rearrange your environment, and improve your chances of really sticking to a new habit.
Remove tempting items
Is your resolution to stop doing or eating something tempting? Change your space. Let’s say you want to cut down on sweets. Go through your pantry, fridge, and freezer and actually remove the candy, cookies, or most tempting items. Throw them away, donate them, or bring them to the office to let someone else help you get rid of them. You’re way less likely to sneak a treat if there aren’t any in easy access.
If you can’t actually get your temptation out of your house, make it harder to access. For example, if you want to stop eating chocolate, but your partner doesn’t agree, try letting her hide her chocolate somewhere you won’t look, or invest in a safe that only she gets the combination to.
Change the things that lead to problems, and add easy access to the good
Find a new route home that take you past the gym. Even if you don’t go every day, now it’s so convenient, you’ll find it a lot easier to just drop in for a quick workout. For the “stop doing” resolutions, change the environment where you feel tempted. Typically stress eat on the couch? Try facing it in a different direction. It sounds strange, but breaking up the “normal” of a space can be enough to shake your brain from its automatic habits and force it to actually think – do I want to eat this?
Place convenient prompts
Want to exercise more? Put your weights or yoga mat in front of the television so you see them at just the right time when you’d usually drop onto the couch. Or organize your fridge with the healthy snacks, cut and ready to eat, in the front in clear containers where you’re most likely to see them. Choose a few healthy recipes and lay them on the kitchen counter ready to use.
Commit to something insignificantly small
One of my favorite examples of “tricking” your brain is to make your new habit commitment so tiny you can’t possibly fail. Think you should floss your teeth more often? Don’t try to floss your teeth every day. Instead commit to flossing ONE tooth every day. How can you say no to that? And when you’re looking in the mirror with the floss in your hands, chances are you’ll just keep going. But if you don’t, you’ve still make your commitment and shouldn’t feel guilty at all.
Want to take a daily jog? Just commit to putting on your running clothes and stepping outside. Most days that will turn into a jog. Some days maybe just a walk around the block. But everything is better than nothing, and you’re making good progress.
Change your language
This little trick is so simple and so powerful. Often when we chose to stop doing something, we tell ourselves and our friends that we “can’t” have a drink any more, or we “can’t” have that cake. Try instead to tell yourself, and your friends, that you “don’t”. I “don’t” drink any more. I “don’t” play more than an hour of video games.
“Can’t” is usually something imposed on us by others, and tends to make us rebel. “Don’t” is a choice. We are committing to something because we want to. And we’re much more likely to follow through on something we’ve chosen rather than something others make us do.
Make a bet on it
Really needing an extra push? Find a friend and put real money on your resolution. We all hate losing money, so having that extra motivation may really help you stick with a tough new goal. My favorite way to do this is to make it even more motivating by committing that money not to your friend, but to something you hate. If you fail and end up giving a hundred dollars to your friend, maybe that’d be okay, because they can use it and enjoy it. But what if you commit to giving that hundred bucks to a political candidate you disagree with? Or a cause you detest? No more good feelings to help offset the loss!
Some of these might sound a little extreme, but they can really help push through times of low motivation and help you form new habits.
One last word of advice from behavior science – don’t be too ambitious! Trying to work through these steps for 5 different resolutions at once will drive you bonkers. Just pick ONE habit to change at a time. Once that gets easy and natural – usually in three to six months – then you can think about adding your next new habit to the routine.
Good luck on your path to a better you!