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You're going about your New Year's resolutions all wrong

It is that time of year again when we look back at the past year and set goals for the new year. As we should, we get excited about our newfound motivation to start anew with a fresh outlook and focus. Every year, more than 50% of people make New Year's resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, work out, save money, get a promotion, get a raise, and more. And yet, virtually every study tells us that around 80% of New Year's resolutions are abandoned by February 1st. There have been hundreds of articles, blogs, and studies on this topic. Today I will focus on a specific aspect of achieving goals: habit building.

Well-formed habits are the keys that open the doors to achieving our goals. Said another way, when our rituals fail, our results suffer, and our motivation disappears. Changing our daily habits should be our resolution, and as a result, we will achieve the success we desire.

Let's start by acknowledging that behavior is brutal to change and willpower is overrated. Minor changes to our daily routines and well-formed existing habits are the best ways to introduce behavior change. New behaviors over time produce changes.

Here are some suggestions you can follow that will help you achieve your 2022 New Year's resolutions:

Don't Try and Change Everything at Once; pick one thing and do it well.

Research (and common sense, for that matter) suggests that too many resolutions taken on simultaneously will increase the likelihood of long-term failure. My suggestion is to keep it simple; focus on building one new behavior at a time. Once that habit becomes routine, move on to the next one. For example, the resolution to "get in better shape" will take on many behavior modifications, so start with one change until it becomes a habit. Spend three months focusing on going to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Once that feels like a routine, move on to the next habit, which might be to prepare meals for the week every Sunday. Focus on meal prep until it is a habit. Combining these two behavior changes will put you on your way to getting in better shape. Keep doing this until you have significantly modified your behavior, and as a result, you will accomplish your goals.

Pick the Right Habit.

Not sure where to start? When in doubt, pick something that could potentially be a keystone habit.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, defines a keystone habit as "behavior or routine that naturally pulls the rest of your life in line." He goes on to use the example of weightlifting as a keystone habit. Getting in the gym and working out creates a ripple effect pulling other behaviors along with it. Not only will you get the benefits of working out, but exercise naturally affects how you sleep, focus, and eat. All positive changes help you achieve the overall "getting in better shape" goal.

Make it Easy by Removing Roadblocks.

The most challenging part of a new habit is starting the behavior. It takes a lot of motivation to head to the gym for a workout after an exhausting day at work, and it takes a lot of willpower to get out of a warm bed on a cold dark morning. Mental exhaustion and lack of resolve will harm your ability to modify your behavior and give you excuses to not follow through with the change. To combat this, you must make it as easy as possible. If you plan to workout after work, make sure you have packed your bag the night before, arranged your meetings for the end of the day, filled your water bottle, and set your timer to remind you to eat a snack 60 minutes before your workout begins. If you plan to work out in the morning, set the timer on your coffee pot, pack your gym bag, fill your water bottle, put out your clothes the night before. These simple tasks are easier to do when you’re not rushed or stressed; therefore, you don't have to force yourself to do them when you are under pressure or at a weak point.

Habits are learned behaviors done with little or no effort because they reside in your unconscious. Habit preserves energy for higher-order thinking, including decision-making. If you are interested in habits and how to use habits to build a better life and increase your success, try reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.

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