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The Power of Habit: Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick


The last time I made New Year’s Resolutions, they looked like the below image… Except add failed parenting resolutions to mine such as: Be more patient with kids. Yell less. Be present. You know the list.

resolutions again



Do your previous New Year’s Resolutions look similar?

I stopped making New Years Resolutions years ago because they never stuck. In fact, only 8% of the population actually follow through on their resolutions.

And why do most resolutions never stick? Because it requires more than putting a paper on the wall with a list of life changes to actually change your life. Each behavior you hope to change or feat you hope to make is a created by a complex and intricate set of habits and decisions that you make each day.

Related Read: Why I Threw Away Our Routine Charts

“Resolution” comes from the Latin word “resolutionem” which means “the process of reducing things into simpler forms”. To achieve your goal, you will need to break down & identify all the parts and habits that are creating the behavior you want to change.

That means you need to:

  1. Identify your ‘why’ for your resolutions
  2. Understand your habits
  3. Plan for new routines
  4. Find your people
  5. Allow for failure and
  6. Believe in yourself.

This year I am determined to follow through on my resolutions with some help from the literature of Charles Duhigg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of The Power of Habit. Here are the secrets I learned and the critical steps for making our New Years Resolutions stick.

6 Critical Steps For Making New Year's Resolutions Stick

6 Critical Steps For Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Step 1: Find Your ‘Why’

Ask yourself which 3 habits in your life, when changed, will have the most positive outcome. You don’t want to set out to boil the ocean and take on more changes than you can possibly make from the beginning of the year. In fact, you just want to choose your 3 or fewer behaviors for the year. Once you have chosen the behaviors you want to change, the most important step is to establish your ‘Why’.

  • Weight Loss: My ‘why’ is to keep up with my children
  • Less alcohol: My ‘why’ is to achieve a healthy mental state
  • Less yelling: My ‘why’ is to create a positive atmosphere in my house

[clickToTweet tweet=”In the words of Nietzsche: ‘He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.'” quote=”In the words of Nietzsche: ‘He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.'”]

Once you have listed your ‘why’, pick the most important one. This is where you will begin. Addressing one goal at a time will give you a greater chance at being successful and building confidence in yourself as you tackle your other goals through the year.

Make your “why” sticky – write it on a post-it note and stick it to your mirror as a reminder each day.

Step 2: Make a Habit List

habit loop[Created by Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit]

Once you have identified your ‘why’, brainstorm which habits have built the walls that are blocking you from success. Habits are created through a repetitious cue, routine and reward system. We may not even realize that we are developing the habits. If you are a parent, you have probably eaten food left on your kids plate from time to time. I wasn’t aware I had created this habit until I gained 15 pounds – I just hated wasting food. The cue was food left on the plate, the habit was to eat, and the reward was the dopamine boost from food and the satisfaction of clearing the plate. I knew I had to change this habit.

If a healthy body is your goal, you need to address all your eating habits- what are you eating, when are you eating, why are you eating, what are your shopping habits and what types of food keeping in the house, how often are you eating out, etc. List them all out and keep a record until you understand your habits.

Habits are powerful but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission but can be re-shaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize- they are so strong., in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense. – The Power of Habit

Step 3: Plan for New Routines

Now that you understand the habit loop, the real work begins. Old habits may never die – but you can teach an old dog new tricks! Once a habit is established (consciously or unconsciously) it becomes ingrained and the only way to change it is to identify the cue, replace the old routines with new routines while keeping the same reward.

Here’s a routine that is common in my house:

Cue – It is about 6:30 pm, the kids have now been playing/fighting for 4 hours since school let out. I notice that I am losing my patience and feeling stressed.
Routine – I grab a glass of wine/beer.
Reward – I am rewarded with stress relief.

My cue is stress and the signals are a tightening in my chest, negative mood, impatience with my kids, yelling, etc. My routine is to have a drink with the desired outcome alleviated stress. I need a new routine to replace the glass of wine so I begin brainstorming other methods of dealing with stress – taking the kids outside, taking a walk alone, meditating, yoga, etc. It may require many iterations before you find a routine that offers the same reward you were receiving with the old routine.

Step 4: Find Your People

Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. There is only one way you are going to find your people and support system – by making your goals and resolutions public.

Here are the steps to creating social circles that will help you achieve your goals.

First, divide your environments into your different social circles – home, children’s play groups, friends, work colleagues, hobby allies, etc.

Second, evaluate the habits that you are trying to change in each social circle and communicate those needs with those people. If weight loss is a goal, then there may be food issues you need to resolve in each environment. Do playdates tend to involve junk food? Are candy bowls prevalent at work? Does your spouse keep bad food in the house?

Third, communicate what you need in each social circle. Do you need playdate buddies to have healthier offerings? Do you need a co-worker to take a walk with you in the afternoon so you avoid the candy dishes? Reach out to people that can help you replace your old routines with new, healthier ones.

The more people you have supporting you, the more successful you will be. Also, the more public you are with your goals, the more like-minded friends you will find. There is a reason that Alcoholics Anonymous suggests 90 meetings in 90 days at the onset of the program. It not only creates an environment for people to relieve stressors by talking through them in a supportive environment, but also creates a strong social circle for the new attendee.

Step 5: Allow For Failure

I want to reiterate the importance of understanding that once habits are ingrained (good or bad), they never go away. They reside in the most ancient part of the brain – the basal ganglia. So, as you are on your journey to create better habits, you may revert back to old habits from time to time. This is more likely to happen in times of high stress. Instead of quitting, recognize the stressor (or the cue that caused the bad habit) and make a plan to deal with it next time.

Creating a positive attitude will be best served by celebrating all your small wins. Many people tout the benefits of writing in a gratitude journal each day. Consider keeping a “wins” journal with the good decisions you’ve made each day. Start the book with your ‘why’ and keep a record of the small wins that are paving the way for you to achieve your goals.

The journey is long and if we come down hard on ourselves for failure, we will not continue to move forward. Instead of wallowing in regret, look at your failures as an opportunity to learn and move forward more prepared.

Step 6: Believe In Yourself

If you’ve read this far, then you believe (or at least partially believe) in free will. It is important to have faith that you can go to battle with your basal ganglia and become the victor – changing your habits and your life. Hope and belief in yourself are essential ingredients to changing your life.

If you believe you can change- if you make it a habit- the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.” The Power of Habit

Bring on the new year!

A new year means a new chance to reinvent our goals, our lives and ourselves. Get started today identifying the changes you want to make and the ‘why’ behind them, making your habit list, planning new routines, finding your people, allowing for failure and, most importantly, believing in yourself!

Let’s take on this year armed with the knowledge to be successful with our resolutions. This year, let’s make our resolutions stick!

Talk to you soon…

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