At the start of the New Year comes the pressure to create new personal goals or resolutions we commit to as a way of self-improving. Whether it’s for health, relationships, or career motives, we see them as a way to a fresh start, a means of kickstarting positive change in our lives.
However, research says that only 9% of Americans follow through with their New Year resolutions, with almost half of them quitting by the end of January. And I think I know why that is so.
Why New Years Resolutions Don’t Work Out
Most times, we set blanket resolutions without intrinsic motivation, driven by external pressures instead of the inner power needed for lasting change. While we might wake up one day and decide to change our lives, all we must undergo while we transform is not something we can do overnight. We oversimplify the complex process of making big behavioral changes.
All too often, it feels like we’re setting ourselves up for failure. It brings all of our mind traps to the forefront where we overgeneralize our experience only to catastrophize it when it isn’t quite turning out our way. We take on this all-or-nothing mentality and then minor setbacks become failures. These perceived failures lead to the abandonment of our goals.
From there, we start to ever-so quietly quit on ourselves until that resolution becomes no more. But what can we do instead to jumpstart some of the changes we want to see in the new year?
Create New Year Habits Instead of Resolutions
Habits are automatic actions we do without thinking about them. They form when our brain learns a pattern consisting of a trigger, the action itself, and a reward. This pattern gets ingrained in our brains through repetition.
Focusing on cultivating new habits over resolutions is about building a consistent, repetitive foundation we can integrate into automatic behaviors over time. Noting our habits helps us address the behavioral aspects of change, bringing awareness to our actions and their underlying patterns. It helps us observe and acknowledge the triggers that initiate certain behaviors and the rewards that reinforce them. After that, we can set goals on how to change or redirect those triggers.
Shirzad Chamine, the New York Times Best Seller of Positive Intelligence, discusses how repetitive action enables automatic habits. The neurons in our brain that help us make decisions become more closely wired the more we reiterate a specific pattern. So, if we associate food with relaxation, the more we eat as our form of downtime, the more our brain will reiterate that pattern. We can set a goal to lose weight, but until we address the habits we have around eating, we won’t get very far in our pursuit.
Establishing Healthy Habits for the New Year
Think of habits as the precursor to goal setting, the thing that lays the foundation for intentional behavior changes. Once ingrained into our lifestyle, healthy habits will give us the power to withstand setbacks in our goals and feel more directed to achieve them.
As a CBT-certified coach, I prioritize a goal-oriented approach that helps people change unhelpful patterns by addressing the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
To start establishing healthier habits for the new year, here’s what you can do:
Identify Triggers: Reflect on the situations or emotions that prompt your unhealthy habits.
Consider the Root Cause: Reflect on the underlying reasons or patterns associated with these triggers.
Redirect the Reward: Find alternative, positive behaviors to replace the habit while maintaining a sense of reward.
Be Compassionate: Understand that setbacks are part of the learning journey and you’re not always going to get it “right.”
For example: Suppose someone wanting to lose weight identifies that they tend to snack mindlessly during evening TV time (Identify Triggers). Reflecting on this habit, they realize it's triggered by feelings of boredom and stress after a long day (Consider the Root Cause). To address this, they replace snacking with a short evening walk to break the habit loop and still enjoy a sense of relaxation and reward (Redirect the Reward). If there are occasional slip-ups, they approach these moments with self-compassion, understanding that setbacks are normal and part of the journey (Be Compassionate).
In my practice, I focus on guiding you to identify thought patterns linked to negative behaviors so we can reframe them. To achieve goals, you’ve got to first explore the underlying thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your unhealthy habits. It all starts with the root cause. Let’s discuss how we can identify that together.
I believe in you.