Make your resolution stick… by learning how to create habits! By Nicholas Wai

Last month I relayed my experience in what I learned from a 21-day early morning yoga course to support me in realizing my New Year resolutions. A month in and I realized that without the formal structure of a course, it is much harder to maintain a new habit!

What I also realized is that some of the elements found in a group course that help in habit forming can be adopted on a personal level to increase the chance of making a habit stick. For example,

One of the main reasons why I was able to get up so early in the morning for 3 weeks to go to the yoga class was that the start time has been fixed and I didn’t have to make the daily decision to go, as the decision had already been made when I signed up for the course. Of course I could have decided not to go when the warmth of my bed was too attractive compared with getting up in the dark, nevertheless, when something has already been written into my diary it just felt more natural to follow through with it than not.

How would this translate to habit forming and maintaining?

Reading Josh Davis’ excellent book Two Awesome Hours: Science-based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done recently reminded me of the equally excellent book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (which I touched on in an earlier post). According to Duhigg, because of cues that prompt us to go into a habit loop, (such as cold weather that prompt us to stay in bed a while longer, if that’s what we usually do), whenever we leave our decisions open (if and when), like that daily workout, it is so easy to make a decision that goes against what we should do. At the moment decisions are made, they very often are made according to our mood (a kind of cue) at the time and anything that keeps us in our comfort zone will easily look more attractive than something that takes effort and willpower. As such, if we just make the resolution without also planning ahead the how of making it stick as a habit, it is extremely difficult to fight against of natural instinct that are ingrained as habits.

So does it mean we cannot make any meaningful change in our lives? According to fellow blogger James Clear in his post How Willpower Works: The Science of Decision Fatigue and How to Avoid Bad Decisions, what we can do to create a new habit is to make the decision to do something beforehand, and according to Duhigg, create a cue that reminds you of that decision. For example, instead of making the decision of whether to hit the gym that day, make that decision beforehand including fixing the time, say 7 in the morning, and creating the cue, like putting out your gym gear where you can see them when you wake up. Once something is fixed in your schedule and reinforced by the cue, it is easier to not waste time and energy rethinking the decision, and [the key is] once you have done it for a few times the habit will stick more easily. What if you say you cannot possibly plan this far ahead? Fix it for the week, or even, fix it the night before.

As long as you are not making the decision at the point of action you are less likely to make a decision that goes against what your pre-set goal.

So how did it go? I tried one week penciling in a fixed schedule for my daily half-hour exercise and one week not, and found it much easier to keep up with my resolution when I pre-fixed my schedule. Also, when I didn’t pencil in a fixed time for my workout, I found that it was so much easier to mess up my rhythm and efficiency for the rest of the day. With this experiment, not only have I found a way to realize my New Year resolution, I believe the process of making the decision beforehand and creating a cue for action would also help my clients in making their resolutions stick.

Questions for you:

  • Knowing how to more effectively create habit change, what would you do for yourself or your client in making New Year resolutions stick?