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How to make your New Year’s resolutions actually stick

New Year, resolutions

vesna cvorovic | Shutterstock

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 01/03/22 - updated on 12/30/22

These 2 strategies, inspired by the book 'Atomic Habits,' will ensure that you finally make those changes you want.

New Year’s resolutions don’t stick for 92% of people, but there is some solid research on how to build a new habit that sticks. One of the best books to grasp and put into practice this research is James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits.

You’ve probably heard of it, and I’m here to tell you that it absolutely lives up to the hype. I read it about 15 months ago, and honestly, it changed my life.

Using the advice in the book, I built a daily exercise habit that is still sticking with me today, after a lifetime of avoiding exercise. I am strong and healthier than ever before, all thanks to this book.

Atomic Habits explains the science behind habit formation and applies these principles to real life situations. It’s remarkable what a difference it makes to understand the “why” and “how” behind changing behavior!

If you want to kick a bad habit or start a good one, I can’t recommend it enough.

The biggest lesson I learned from the book is to prioritize consistency and building the habit over trying to achieve a certain goal. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to do things perfectly, but what really works is much simpler. Just keep showing up, even when the novelty wears off.

What does this mean, though, practically speaking? There are two things to keep in mind: Start very small, and focus on the process instead of the outcome. 

1Start small, no, even smaller than that

The whole reason that the book is called “atomic habits” is because Clear advocates for making very tiny changes, or “getting 1% better every day.” Break down your new habits into the tiniest incremental changes possible. 

So if your New Year’s resolution is to read a book every month this year, start out reading one page before bed every night. Just build the habit of daily reading on a micro level. 

What matters most in the beginning stages of your resolution is to stick to a very small change. Think small but consistent.

2Focus on the process instead of the outcome

When people make resolutions, they often focus on the outcome instead of what it will take to get there. For example, they might say, “I want to lose 20 pounds.” But instead, the resolution should be focused on the process of how to get there.

A realistic resolution would be something like “I will exercise 4 days a week, eat a big green salad every day, and drink tea instead of a sugary iced coffee.” Establish a new normal instead of setting a certain benchmark.

The reason is that you need to be able to stick to your routine before you can expect to see results. Clear says,

In other words, in the first 6 months, it is more important to not miss workouts than it is to make progress. Once you become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts, then you can worry about making progress and improving. 

He gives the example of Mitch, who built a new habit by setting an upper limit on his behavior:

Mitch set a rule for himself where he couldn’t stay in the gym for more than 5 minutes at the beginning. He had to go every day, but he wasn’t allowed to stay for 6 minutes. He was focused on building the habit of not missing workouts. After doing that for a month or two, he had established a routine of going to the gym and he started to focus on doing more difficult workouts. Today, Mitch is over 100 pounds lighter. 

Start super small, and trust the process. This is key to making a lifestyle change that lasts, instead of a “resolution” that disappears after a few weeks. 

Over time, consistently doing these tiny acts means you’ve built a habit that will stick. And once you have the habit, it’s amazing to see how you’ll grow and progress in that area. These “atomic habits” really can change your life. 

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