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Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Become Habits

We all need a foolproof system and the fulfillment of the habit loop to make our resolutions stick and turn into habits that last for many years to come.

Many people are enthusiastic about bringing a positive change or behavior in their lives but very few of them actually attain success in turning them into habits that last for the long-term.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes explains how the habit loop works:

  1. The Cue: something that tells your brain to initiate a routine
  2. The Routine: a behavior or thought pattern that you execute
  3. The Reward: some pleasurable feeling or nugget that makes us feel good, and encourages our brain to repeat this process 

Keeping this habit loop in mind, most New Year’s resolutions fail because:

  1. The cue i.e. January 1 (or the “blank slate”) only comes around once a year.
  2. We don’t create a sustainable routine. For instance, we enroll in a gym membership, but we don’t put a system in place and don’t have a definite plan of action.
  3. We don’t set up small rewards for ourselves along the way. The only reward that we keep for ourselves is one huge (sometimes vague) goal that seems incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to reach.

This is why it’s important that we give ourselves daily cues to engage in a new behavior. You can do this via stacking this new behavior or habit on a previously established one, for instance, sitting down to write as soon as you finish your morning reading session. Next, you can have a routine or system in place, for example writing for 30 minutes every weekday, and also set up constant rewards daily, monthly, quarterly and even yearly as you review your accomplishments. As you set up your rewards, just make sure they’re moderate indulgences and not unhealthy ones, otherwise, you’ll be motivated by negative intentions that don’t serve well in the long-term.

In words of Greg McKeown, follow up on your New Year’s resolutions by design, not by default. We all need a foolproof system and the fulfillment of the habit loop to make our resolutions stick and turn into habits that last for many years to come.


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Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

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