How to make new years resolutions

The 7 Secrets To Creating Healthy Habits That Last

At the beginning of each new year, over 50% of people in the UK make a new year’s resolution. [1] As we arrive in 2023, research shows that around 1 in 5 people have made a new year’s resolution, with more than half of those resolutions linked to doing more exercise, losing weight, improving fitness or making positive dietary changes. [2] The problem with new year’s resolutions however, is that roughly 43% of people actually expect to fail at their resolution before February, and almost 1 in 4 people quit within the first week. [3] Only 9% of those who make new year’s resolutions tend to stick with them for the entire year [4], so what makes them different to everyone else? Whilst we might all make similar resolutions, the way we go about implementing them can mean make-or-break. In this blog, you’ll learn how to create effective habits that lead you towards your goals and resolutions, so maybe this year you’ll be in the top 9% whose resolutions stick.

Goals Vs Habits

The simple use of language around our new year’s resolutions can be the deciding factor as to whether we keep or break our intentions. Resolutions and goals are ideal achievements we set, that are way off in the future. A goal of losing weight, meeting a specific exercise target or transforming your relationship with food sounds great, but really, these are all just nice ideas. Goals are aspirations; they’re a great way to help us focus on a target, but they’re not effective at actually changing our behaviour. After all, the way we look and feel right now is the result of our behaviour over the past months and years. All the actions we engage with every day go towards shaping who we are inside and out. As author James Clear says in Atomic Habits; “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become. [Habits] cast repeated votes for being a certain type of person”. [5] If you want your new year’s resolution to work then, it’s all about changing your daily habits.

 How Habits Are Formed

You may have heard the phrase ‘It takes 21 days to form a habit’, but this isn’t necessarily true for everyone. Research shows that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to make a habit 95% automatic behaviour, [6] indicating that if you don’t feel you’ve nailed your new year’s resolutions by day 21, you still have plenty of time to form effective habits, no matter what those habits might be.

Habit formation has a lot to do with circuits and connections in the brain called neural pathways. These pathways in the brain are like a map of our habits and behaviours; the more we engage in a behaviour, the clearer and faster neurons are able to move along those pathways, because they find it easy to navigate. The neural pathways for how to brush your teeth or tie your shoe laces for example, are clear and strong, so you don’t have to put much thought into these habits. The neural pathways for the habits you’re yet to create however, are like overgrown and unused tracks through a forest. The more overgrown these pathways are, the more you’ll experience limbic friction; a phrase coined by Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and host of the popular Huberman Lab Podcast. Limbic friction refers to the amount of strain and effort it takes to complete a task, and as you may have already experienced – the more effort something takes, the less likely us humans are to do it. You can overcome limbic friction by placing your new habits earlier in the day, when motivation-boosting hormones such as dopamine and adrenaline are higher [7], or by putting yourself in a good state of mind beforehand, which we’ll explore further on in the blog. When it comes to clearing those neural pathways to make your habits easier however, the simple truth is that repetition really is key.

Why Some Habits Are Hard To Break

If your goal this year is to break a habit, such as quitting smoking or drinking, or consuming less processed food, it’s worth knowing why this can be challenging, and how to work around those challenges. Habits we’ve stuck with for years become automatic, and those well-trodden neural pathways we discussed above are largely responsible for why habits are hard to break. Many automatic habits are contextual and controlled by our environment, such as washing your hands after using the toilet, or putting your seatbelt on when getting into the car, [8] whilst others are related to cravings, such as cravings for sugar or caffeine, and need to be worked on slowly with gradual dietary changes. If you’d like help making positive changes to your diet and lifestyle, book a health consultation with one of our experts. Essentially, breaking habits requires us to make changes to our environment, focusing on positive outcomes rather than restrictions [9], and having meaningful reasons for making change, which you’ll learn more about in a moment.

The Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions

Before we dive into the science and practical tips on  creating effective habits, let’s look at the most popular new year’s resolutions, so we can use them as real-life examples of how to create habits and achieve your goals:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Eat healthier
  3. Lose weight
  4. Save money
  5. Spend more time with family and friends
  6. Get organized
  7. Learn a new skill or hobby
  8. Travel more
  9. Read more
  10. Live life to the fullest

As you can see, these resolutions and goals are all pretty vague, which is the first mistake when it comes to creating real change in life. Let’s dive into the five secret keys to actually making your new year’s resolutions work.


  1. Be Realistic About Your Goals

Studies show that unrealistic goals and expectations can quickly lead to people giving up on creating healthy habits [10]. If reality doesn’t meet expectations, this can also dissuade us from approaching other goals, and create a negative mindset. [11] When working on developing healthier habits, be realistic about your aims; if you currently don’t exercise at all, create a habit of walking three times per week; if you want to eat healthier, start by changing just one of your meals, or swap three unhealthy foods you currently eat for three healthy ones. Making things do-able means you’re more likely to do them.


  1. Be Clear

Being crystal clear and focused on what you want to achieve is one of the secrets to meeting your goals. A vague resolution like ‘exercise more’ or ‘get organised’ is almost impossible to achieve, because there’s no clear plan of action. Being clear and precise about the habits you’re going to work on makes them feel more realistic, and gives you much more focus. If you want to exercise more, set a specific day, time and routine for your workout, such as a 30 minute run every Monday, or a 45 minute strength workout every Wednesday. To get organised, write down your plan for each day, and ensure you have specific places to keep things organised in, such as a dedicated bag for some items, or a drawer to keep the keys you’re always losing…


  1. Seek Out Support

Research shows that when we have support, we’re much more likely to maintain habits and make them a part of our lives. [12] Having support from a personal trainer can give you the confidence to get back into the gym with a plan focused on your needs, whilst working with a health coach or nutritionist give you valuable personalised support to make the right choices that will help you achieve your resolutions and goals. You may even find that buddying-up with a friend makes you feel more motivated to stick to your new healthy behaviours, or that making your resolutions public on social media gives you accountability to maintain your habits.


  1. Put Yourself In The Right State Of Mind

Mindset is an important key to making habits work; if we feel anxious and stressed, or lethargic and tired, we’re less likely to want to work on our habits. This is why getting yourself into the right mindset and increasing motivation is so helpful. You can make a habit more likely to happen by placing it in the morning hours, when our levels of neurochemicals dopamine and adrenaline are higher. Dopamine is the hormone largely responsible for motivation, drive, and a desire to move and learn, so any resolutions linked to these aspects are best placed in the early hours. You can boost levels of dopamine by getting out into bright natural light, getting good quality sleep in a dark room (wearing an eye mask or investing in blackout curtains can help with this), listening to music you enjoy, meditating, and engaging in a form of exercise you enjoy. Celebrating small ‘wins’ whilst you’re creating habits, such as five consecutive days of healthy eating or a consistent exercise routine also helps increase dopamine levels, as does sharing your achievements with others, meaning you’re more likely to want to keep up your habits.


  1. Set Your Environment Up For Success

If habits are so hard to break because we associate them with our environments, then it makes sense that shaping our environments to support our habits is going to make them easier to engage with. Our environment delivers the cues which trigger certain behaviour, [13] which is one of the reasons never working or scrolling through social media from your bed is so important if you want to improve your sleep. Habit expert James Clear also shares that our environment is like “an invisible hand that shapes human behaviour”. [14] We may think we’re in charge of making all the decisions, but really, it’s our environment that has one of the biggest impacts. To make your environment work for you, he recommends ‘automating good decisions’, such as buying smaller plates to automatically reduce portion size, and making it easier to avoid unhealthy foods by either placing them somewhere difficult to access, or banning them from the house entirely. To set your environment up for successful habits, try shaping it around the specific habits you’re trying to create. If you want to exercise more, lay out your gym clothes the night before; if you want to meditate more, set up a small dedicated space with a cushion and have a guided meditation app on the home page of your phone; if you want to create a habit of playing a musical instrument more often, put it in the middle of the room where you won’t miss it.  


  1. Stack Your Habits

One of the most effective ways to create healthy habits, is to stack them on top of already existing behaviours. This creates far less ‘limbic friction’, and makes you far more likely to actually keep on repeating these habits regularly. If you want to drink more water, keep a large glass next to where you store your coffee, so you’ll be reminded to drink a glass of water when you have your morning coffee. If you want to remember to take your supplements, keep them out on the kitchen bench, and stack them on top of your breakfast. Stack a walk on top of your regular phone meetings, a few push ups on top of toilet breaks, and stack a breathing practice on top of the moment you arrive home from work. Start with one or two habits to stack, and go from there.


  1. Remember Your WHY

Having a meaningful reason for creating habits can be the backbone that supports you to achieve your goals. There are two types of motivation linked to habit formation; intrinsic and extrinsic. [15] Intrinsic motivation is related to personal desires like feeling happier, enjoying life more, feeling healthier to help increase lifespan or prevent disease, or having more energy to enjoy time with family and friends, whilst extrinsic motivation is connected to external factors like what others think of you, how you look, winning a competition or earning more money. Either of these types of motivation can work, but intrinsic motivation tends to be the one that sustains us for longer. Research shows that habits related to intrinsic motivation lead to greater persistence, engagement, better performance and indeed, more motivation. If you’re struggling with your new year’s resolution, think about whether it’s intrinsically or extrinsically guided, and remember to keep your WHY in the back of your mind for extra encouragement along the way. 


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