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How to make your New Year’s resolutions actually stick

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 01/03/22

These 2 strategies, inspired by the book 'Atomic Habits,' will ensure that you finally make those changes you want.

A new year brings with it the usual resolutions to improve our lives in all kinds of ways, but I’ve got some bad news: If you’re like 92% of people, your resolutions won’t last. That is, unless you learn the secrets of how to build a new habit that sticks. So here are some practical ideas for how to do that.

First, I have to give major credit to James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. You’ve probably heard of it or seen the cover at your local bookstore or library, and I’m here to tell you that it really does live up to the hype — at least it did for me. 

I hesitate to call a book life-changing, but this was my experience with Atomic Habits. Not only does it explain the science behind habit formation, but it applies these principles to real life situations in a practical and straightforward way. If you want to kick a bad habit or start a good one, you really have to read it!

Since I read it three months ago, I’ve seen how well it works in real life. I’ve been able to stick to new daily habits that I tried and failed to achieve before. It’s remarkable what a difference it makes to understand the “why” and “how” behind changing behavior!

The biggest lesson I learned from the book is to prioritize consistency and building the habit over trying to achieve a certain goal. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to do things perfectly, but what really works is much simpler. Just keep showing up, even when the novelty wears off.

What does this mean, though, practically speaking? There are two things to keep in mind: Start very small, and focus on the process instead of the outcome. 

1Start very small

The whole reason that the book is called “atomic habits” is because Clear advocates for making very tiny changes, what he calls “getting 1% better every day.” That means you need to break down your new habits into the tiniest incremental changes possible. 

So, for example, if your New Year’s resolution is to read a book every month this year, start out with your focus on reading at least one page before bed every night. Slowly you can increase the time spent reading, but at the beginning, your priority should be just to build the habit of daily reading on a micro level. 

What matters most in the beginning stages of your resolution is to stick to a very small change. Think small but consistent.

2Focus on the process instead of the outcome

When people make resolutions, they often focus on the outcome instead of what it will take to get there. For example, they might say, “I want to lose 20 pounds.” But instead, the resolution should be focused on the process of how to get there, for example, “I will exercise 5 days a week and eat a big green salad every day.” Put your energy into establishing a new normal rather than reaching a certain goal.

The reason for this is that you need to be able to stick to your routine before you can expect to see results. Clear says,

In other words, in the first 6 months, it is more important to not miss workouts than it is to make progress. Once you become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts, then you can worry about making progress and improving. 

He gives the example of Mitch, who built a new habit by setting an upper limit on his behavior:

Mitch set a rule for himself where he couldn’t stay in the gym for more than 5 minutes at the beginning. He had to go every day, but he wasn’t allowed to stay for 6 minutes. He was focused on building the habit of not missing workouts. After doing that for a month or two, he had established a routine of going to the gym and he started to focus on doing more difficult workouts. Today, Mitch is over 100 pounds lighter. 

So start super small, and trust the process. This is the key to making a lifestyle change that lasts, instead of a “resolution” that disappears after a few weeks. 

Over time, consistently doing these tiny acts means you’ve built a habit that will stick. And once you have the habit, it’s amazing to see how you’ll grow and progress in that area. These “atomic habits” really can change your life. 

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