Why New Year Resolutions Rarely Work.

Updated: Jan 26


The New Year is the time for making New Year resolutions or setting goals for the year. Resolutions usually involve changing a bad habit or adopting a good habit.


Some common New Year’s resolutions are:

· Join a gym or exercise regularly

· Meditate or do yoga every day

· Give up sugar, carbs, smoking

· Spend less time on your phone or Facebook, or watching Netflix


Did you make any of these or similar resolutions? How are they going?


Whatever your resolution was, if you are like most people, you haven’t stuck to it. And why is that? You probably have a range of excuses – “it’s too hot”,” it’s too cold”,” I have been too busy”, “the gym was too noisy”. But tif you are like most people, you haven’t stuck to it. And why is that? You probably have a range of excuses – “it’s too hot”,” it’s too cold”,” I have been too busy”, “the gym was too noisy”. But the real reason is that resolutions DON’T work unless you understand how to change your habits or create new ones.


Have you read ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg? * If you have you will know what I am talking about, but if you haven’t I highly recommend that you read it. He wrote about the science of habit formation and how by understanding what he called ‘The Habit Loop’ we can change our habits. So how can we do this?


He reviewed a lot of scientific research on habit formation and came to the conclusion that the routine (habitual behaviour) is triggered by a cue and results in a reward of some kind. The cycle is CUE → ROUTINE → REWARD.

In order to break this cycle and change a bad habit you need to:


1. Identify the routine, that is the behaviour you want to change.

Let’s say you want to change the habit of drinking a glass of wine when you get home from work every day. In this case the routine is drinking the glass of wine, which you pour automatically as soon as you walk into your house.


2. Understand what the cue is for your habit

The cue might be the time of day or an emotional state. In this case the cue could be the time of day, or it might be arriving home, or feeling tired.


3. Work out what the reward is for your habit and try to substitute it with a different reward or find another way to achieve the same reward.


So what reward is the glass of wine providing? Is it a feeling of relaxation? Is it a way of marking the end of the day? The key here is to experiment with other ways of obtaining the same reward. So, for example, if you think the reward might be a feeling a relaxation, what other activities could you use to induce a feeling of relaxation? Meditation perhaps or your favourite exercise routine?


Once you understand the cue, routine and reward the habit will be much easier to change. The final step is to make a plan to change the routine but achieve the same reward. After a few weeks ‘the plan’ will be routine.


James Clear author of the bestseller Atomic Habits * talks about the 4 laws of behavior change.


He said that to build new habits that stick, make them:

1. Obvious - make it clear when and where to do it (Always do it at the same time in the same place).

2. Attractive (to you) - this will help with your motivation to do it.

3. Easy - scale down and just do it for 2 minutes– start with something easy until the habit is formed. A habit must be established before it can be improved. Gradually increase the time once the habit is established.

4. Satisfying/ rewarding – have a goal that is achievable in the short term, so you gain some personal satisfaction quickly. This will motivate you keep going.

He suggests that it is better to do something than nothing. To start small and build up. By changing your habits by 1% will compound (like compound interest – remember that from school) into huge improvements over time. So, he suggests for example, if your aim is to meditate for 20 minutes you should start really small with say 2 minutes and then increase the time by 1 minute a day until you reach your goal.


To break a bad habit, do the opposite. Make the habit:

1. Not obvious

2. Unattractive

3. Difficult

4. Unrewarding


James Clear says that most of your bad habits are caused by two things stress and boredom. To overcome the bad habit, it is necessary to recognise the cause and understand that all habits good and bad have some sort of benefit (Remember the 3-step loop I mentioned earlier - Cue – Routine – Reward)? This is why it's very difficult to just get rid of a bad habit and why advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works. Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.

Read more about Habits in James Clear’s Atomic Habits *, which has lots more practical ideas and suggestions based on research into behaviour change. Or read the classic 'The Power of Habit here


If you are struggling with changing habits, setting or achieving your goals or changing careers and prefer to talk to a human, book a 15 minute call


I would love to help. It is much easier to get clarity when you have someone to help you and easier to stick to something when you have someone to be accountable to.


To be completely transparent, these * are affiliate links . This means if you purchase the book, I get a small commission – the cost to you is the normal price.

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