The beginning of each new year finds us flooded with advertising and messages designed to remind us of where we have “fallen short” in the previous year, with the promise that it will somehow be different this year. But research shows that fewer than 10 percent of people who make New Year’s Resolutions will actually keep them. This low “success” rate in keeping New Year’s resolutions should not be reason to give up on creating lasting change in our lives. Most resolutions come down to breaking a habit that we want to be free from, or introducing a new habit that will enhance our well-being. Luckily, neuroscience is revealing valuable insights on why traditional approaches to New Years’ resolutions don’t work, and how to increase the likelihood of changing our habits long-term.

Those of us in recovery from mental health and substance use conditions already tend to be hard on ourselves for not reaching health and wellness goals. Here are three suggestions for hacking New Year’s resolutions in a way that are less likely to result in a hit to your self-esteem.

1. Try the “two-minute rule.” Make your new desired habit much, much smaller than you think you need to. For example, instead  of saying, “I will meditate every day for thirty minutes,” you can say, “I will meditate every day for two minutes.” If you are seeking to walk every day for thirty minutes, your two-minute rule will be, “I will lace up my shoes and go outside.” According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: “The idea is you want to scale each habit down so essentially you manage a gateway habit. If you can make that automatic, then you often find that it’s kind of like the entrance ramp to the highway. The two-minute habit gets you moving in the right direction.” Clear emphasizes that the two-minute rule is perhaps the most important idea that you can incorporate into a new habit-formation routine.

2. Consider the practice of “habit-stacking.” This idea, informed by Clear’s Atomic Habits and the research of Stanford University behavioral scientist BJ Fogg, is based on the premise that we are often too vague as to when and where we will perform the new habit we wish to incorporate into our lives. Habit stacking encourages you to “stack” a new desired habit on top of an already-established habit. The habit-stacking formula is “After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].” For example, if you are a daily coffee drinker, instead of saying “I will meditate daily,” you can say, “I will meditate after I have my morning coffee.”

3. Create an implementation plan (with accountability). Most New Year’s resolutions do not succeed because our minds trick us into thinking that we have 365 days to accomplish them. In January we feel like we have all the time in the world, but before we know it, it’s March and we haven’t even started on our resolutions. Creating an implementation plan using the formula “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION],” such as “I will walk at 10 AM around the lake” and scheduling it into your calendar will increase the likelihood of actually following through. If you want to increase your chances of forming a new habit even more, consider enlisting a peer or accountability buddy who is willing to receive a text from you each day confirming that you have practiced the new habit. Or, you can use social media to hold yourself accountable, announcing your goal and posting publicly each time you have followed through with your plan.

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