What are the biggest reasons your New Year’s Resolutions fail?
and what can you do to make positive changes easier in the New Year?
Welcome to 2016. It’s January and that means one thing it’s New Year’s Resolution time again.
Depending on where you get your numbers, at least 8 out of 10 of you are going to fail and fall back into your old habits than you are to stick with a new resolution. This translates to somewhere between 81% and 92% of New Years Resolutions fail.
Making a New Year’s Resolution is SIMPLE but this doesn’t make it EASY…
Changing one’s behavior and habits, especially bad habits is difficult.
What are the biggest reasons your New Year’s Resolutions fail? And what can we do to make positive changes easier in the New Year?
First things first, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but after two years of researching and helping people make positive changes to their health, fitness and energy levels, lifestyles and behavior, I’m going to share the most practical insights I’ve learned so far.
Trying to Change Everything at Once
Climb a hill before you take on Everest
The general consensus among behavior scientists and researchers is that you should focus on changing a very small number of habits at the same time. The highest number you’ll find is changing three habits at once and we are talking about incredibly small habits.
How small? Well lets say for example, starting habits like doing just 5 push ups per day, or drinking a glass of water with each main meal or saying to yourself “I’m a good person and it’s going to be a great day” first thing as get out of bed in the morning. So, even if you keep your new habits that small, you should work on no more than three habits at a time.
It takes an average person 21 days to form a new habit.
Personally, I prefer to focusing on building one new habit at a time. Once that habit becomes a routine, then I move on to the next one. For example, In the beginning I spent the first 3 months focusing on just going to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Once I felt that this new habit had become a routine, only then did I move on to my next habit, which was addressing my dietary requirements, nutrition and food quality . This time, I spent months focusing on the new habit until it became part of my lifestyle. Next, I moved on to reading every day. And so on. You get the idea.
So whats the solution
Pick one thing at a time and do it well. Pick one new primary change you want to make a habit.
A primary habit is a behavior or routine that naturally pulls the rest of your life in line. For example, weight training is my primary habit. If I get to the gym, then it creates a ripple effect in other areas of my life. Not only do I get the benefits of working out, I enjoy a wide range of secondary benefits. I focus better after the workout. I tend to eat better when I’m working out consistently. I sleep better at night and wake up with more energy in the morning. I’m also a happier person in general when I’m training.
Notice how I didn’t try to build a multiple of better habits for my focus, my nutrition, my sleep, or my energy. I just chose my primary habit and as a result those other areas were influenced and improved by default. This is why primary habits are powerful. They cascade into other areas of your life. You’ll have to figure out what your primary habit is for you, but some popular examples include exercise, nutrition, meditation or well being, grooming and “your look” or focusing on your monthly finances.
Starting With a Habit That is Too Big
“Make it so easy you can’t say no.”
If you were to map out the motivation needed to perform a habit, you would find it would resemble something like the graph above
In other words, the most difficult part of a new habit is starting or growing accustomed to the new behaviour. It takes a lot of motivation to head to the gym for training after a mentally exhausting day at work, but once you actually begin it doesn’t take much willpower to get through it and finish. For this reason, one of the best things you can do for building a new behavior is to start with a remarkably small habit.
New habits should be non-threatening. Start with a behavior that is so small it seems easy and reasonable to do it each day.
- Want to do 50 burpees per day to improve your fitness levels? Start with something easy like 5 or 10.
- Want to read more books in 2016? Start by reading two pages every night.
- Want to finally start meditating? Meditate for one minute each morning. After a few weeks, you can move up to two minutes.
Focus on changing your behavior and not the outcome.
Seeking a Result, Not a Ritual
Nearly every conversation about New Year’s Resolution and goals are focused on some type of result or fixed timeline. What do you want to achieve? How much weight do you want to lose? How much money do you want to save? How many books do you want to read? How much more water do you want to drink? What amount of alcohol do you want to drink less of?
Naturally, we are result driven and focused on it being time related because we want our new behaviors to deliver new results as quickly as possible.
Here’s the problem: New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do and a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a ongoing and consistently evolving process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better rituals, not chasing better results. Rituals are what turn behaviors into habits. It is said “A ritual is a highly precise behavior you do at a specific time so that it becomes automatic over time and no longer requires much conscious intention or energy.”
If you want a new habit, you have to commit yourself to the process of the newly created ritual.
Build an environment that promotes good habits.
Not Changing Your Environment
I have never seen a person consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment. You can frame this statement in many different ways:
- It is nearly impossible to eat healthy all of the time if you are constantly surrounded by unhealthy food.
- It is nearly impossible to remain positive all of the time if you are constantly surrounded by negative people.
- It is nearly impossible to focus on a single task if you are constantly bombarded with text messages, notifications, emails, questions, and other digital distractions.
- It is nearly impossible to not smoke if you are constantly surrounded by a person or people who do.
- And so on.
We rarely realize it, but our behaviors are often a consequence of a simple response to the environment we find ourselves in.
In fact you can assume your body shape, lifestyle and general health you have today is a consequence of the lifestyle you have today. It is largely a product of the environment you live in each day. The single biggest change that will make a new habit easier is performing it in an environment that is designed to make that habit succeed.
For example, let’s say that your New Year’s resolution is to reduce stress in your life and live in a more focused manner.
Here is your current situation:
Every morning, the alarm on your phone goes off. You pick up the phone, turn off the alarm, and immediately start checking email and social media just the same way you did prior to settling down to sleep the night before. Before you’ve even made it out of bed, you’re already thinking about a half dozen emails and things you’ve to do. Maybe you’ve already responded to a few. You’ve also browsed the latest updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so those messages and headlines are swimming around in your mind too. Only to find you’re now running late, so you have decided it’s a coffee on the go for breakfast and you haven’t even dressed yet, but your mind is already distracted and stressed.
If this scene sounds familiar and you want to change your habit, then the easiest way to do it is to change your environment. Don’t keep your phone in your room. The phone is the thing that is the route cause of you being sleep deprived, late and of all the problems including the going stress levels. So change the environment. Buy a regular alarm clock and charge your phone in another room or, at least, across the room away from your bed.
You can change the digital environment too. Turn off all push notifications on your phone. You can even remove your email and social media apps from the home screen and hide them somewhere else on the phone. I deleted all of my apps from my phone for a month just to see how it would go. I missed them very little.
If you don’t change your environment don’t expect yourself to change as a result.
Get one percent better each day.
Assuming Small Changes Don’t Add Up.
If you listen to nearly anyone talk about their goals, you’ll hear them describe the minimum that they want to achieve.
- “I want to save at least €5,000 this year.”
- “I want to read at least 30 books this year.”
- “I want to lose at least 20 pounds and have a 6 pack before the summer.”
- “I want to travel to 3 different countries this year”
The underlying assumption is that your achievements need to be big to make a difference. Because of this, we always talk ourselves into chasing a big habit. “If I want to lose at least 20 pounds, I need to start punishing myself eating a restrictive diet and working out twice a day!”
If you look at your current habits, however, you’ll see a different picture. Nearly every habit you have today, good or bad, is the result of many small choices made over time. It is the repeated pattern of small behaviours that leads to significant results. Each day we make the choice to become one percent better or one percent worse, but so often the choices are small enough that we miss them.
If you’re serious about building a new habit, then start with something small. Start with something you can stick with for good. Then, once you’ve repeated it enough times, you can worry about increasing the intensity.
Build the behaviour first. Worry about the results later.