Set Small Habits (Not Resolutions) for Big Results in 2016

By on January 4, 2016
Set Small Habits for Big Results in 2016

By Vanessa Sheets –

Workout for 30 minutes three times a week. Read more. Learn how to cook. Eat healthier. Did you know that only 8 percent of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve their goals? Resolutions are more likely to result in failure than bring lasting results, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology (December 2015). Neuroscientists found a better way to help you reach your goals: by setting small daily habits.

When researchers gave popcorn to participants in a movie theater, they found that those who had a habit of eating popcorn during a movie ate just as much stale popcorn as those who were given fresh popcorn. The study shows that we repeat the same patterns of behavior 40 percent of the time on autopilot, according to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2014).

Habits help us streamline our day by preventing the need for endless decisions, like which route to take to work every morning or where to pick up coffee, but new habits take time to form. In fact, scientists found it takes 66 days to form a new habit, according to the European Journal of Social Psychology (2009). Too often, we rely on willpower to stick with a new goal, and give up before it becomes a habit. The trick is to set small daily habits that are so attainable, you stick with them until they become automatic.

Here are five ways to set small habits for big results in 2016:

  • Make it (Very) Easy. Small habits eliminate resistance and keep us motivated. Instead of setting ambitious fitness goals that require self-discipline to sustain, set the bar lower to 10 minutes of exercise every day. Stephen Guise got back into shape doing 1 push-up every day and wrote about it in his book Mini-Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results. A single push-up isn’t going to be effective, but like Guise says in his book, 30 push-ups a month will bring results. Writing 100 words a day may not sound like much but by the end of the year you’d have half the length of a novel.
  • Do it Daily. “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while,” Gretchen Rubin says in her New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. Instead of cramming two weeks worth of workouts into a long weekend session or saving that new book for vacation, try to do a little each day. Read two pages every night before bed, or plan some form of exercise each day. This creates a mindset for starting even on days when you don’t feel like it, because you know you don’t have to do it all at once.
  • Create a Routine. Set your new habit for the same time each day and you’re more likely to develop the consistency necessary to see results. Ideally, you’ll have a window of time allowing you to go longer if you choose. Writers call this “bottom-in-chair” (BIC) time, recognizing that part of success is just showing up and starting. Knowing I only have to write 500 words each session motivates me to face the blank page, but once I’m warmed up, I usually go longer. Have that option and you’ll see even quicker results while maintaining consistency.
  • Use Cues and Rewards. In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explains the neurological loop MIT researchers found at the core of every habit that consists of three parts: cue-routine-reward. Cues can help automate your new exercise routine by signaling to your brain that it’s time to do your 10-minute workout. Wear your gym socks to bed at night and you’re set to get started on your workout shortly after waking up. Or keep your gym shoes in your car and put them on right after work so your brain is primed to stop at the gym on the way home. Use rewards like post-workout protein smoothies or download new music to play for your next workout.
  • Measure It. Whether you’re tracking reading, writing, fitness or weight loss goals, or trying to learn something new, keep track of your progress for continued motivation. Take time to reflect on how many books you’ve read, new recipes you’ve tried, or workouts completed for the week or month. You might be surprised by what you’ve accomplished and feel confident you’re closer to reaching your goal.

If you want to join the 8 percent and achieve your goals for 2016, set small habits- not resolutions. You may find this is your best year yet.  

Vanessa Sheets is a freelance journalist who specializes in fitness, health, and nutrition. She has written for True North, Natural Child, Newport Health, and Greenmaple Wellness and worked in public health as a community educator for a non-profit. She lives in Bend, Oregon.

Vanessa Sheets

About Vanessa Sheets

Vanessa Sheets is a freelance journalist who specializes in fitness, health, and nutrition. She has written for True North, Natural Child, Newport Health, and Greenmaple Wellness and worked in public health as a community educator for a non-profit. She lives in Bend, Oregon.

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Set Small Habits (Not Resolutions) for Big Results in 2016