Habit Linking and it’s power to achieve new goals

Tell all your friends, focus on ‘why’ and be realistic – Here’s how to stick to those New Year’s resolutions you promised yourself last month with habit linking. 

From habit-linking to avoiding the trap of going too broad, we asked the experts how not to fail this year.

New Year’s resolutions tend to get a bad rep. Everyone starts off with the best of intentions. “Yeah mate, yeah, I’m getting really into outdoor hiking in the new year; am considering starting up a hiking club for men actually,” you yap at the New Year’s eve party, having spent the previous night adding £500 worth of gorpcore jackets, shoes and backpacks to your online basket with the vigour of a man in close proximity to a radiator and nowhere near a mountain. Three weeks later and you’re desperately trying to flog the gear on Depop for half the price, having spent exactly zero hours in the great outdoors.

But listen, it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to throw out the concept of New Year’s resolutions entirely – you just need to get better at sticking to them. Because imagine how satisfying it would be if you followed through with all of these great ideas. If you quit begging for a cigarette every time you had exactly one and a half beers, for instance, or got really into weight training, or mastered the mother tongue of your partner without telling them, like those romantics on TikTok. You would be unstoppable. To that end, here’s a handy guide to actually sticking to your New Year’s resolutions this year, according to experts.

Set specific and realistic goals
One mistake that many of us make when it comes to New Year’s resolutions is aiming too high and going too broad. Vague goals like ‘get really hench’ sound okay in the moment, but when we haven’t reached those goals by the first couple of weeks, it can feel disheartening. Dr Katie Tryon, a behaviour change expert and Director of Health Strategy at Vitality, suggests making our resolutions smaller and more manageable. Instead of ‘get fit’, for example, it’d be more helpful to commit to three runs per week, or at least half an hour of exercise per day.

“The best thing is to develop micro-resolutions that can really become habits going forwards, as then you will stick to it,” Dr Tyron explains. “Make sure incentives are aligned so that you get rewarded for the small changes that you make. Slowly build these up over time to achieve the level of activity you would like to get to.”

Try habit linking
Put simply, habit linking is the act of stacking a new habit onto an old one. For example, instead of saying you’re going to write that novel, try committing to writing 500 words every day before making dinner. Or instead of attempting to get into meditation, try committing to 10 minutes of meditation before brushing your teeth. The idea is to turn a new goal into a habit that you do almost automatically, rather than it feeling like this tiring, extra thing. “Over 80 percent of what we do is habit,” Brendan Kelly, a psychiatry professor and the author of The Science of Happiness: The Six Principles of a Happy Life and the Seven Strategies for Achieving It, told GQ last year. “Linking a new activity to an old habit helps the new activity to become a habit.”

Tell all your friends
You know what’s embarrassing? Telling everyone that you’re going to be doing something and then not doing that thing at all – like those people who make a big dramatic post about deleting all their social media apps “because I am not a vessel to be mined for data”, only to start relentlessly posting stories three days later.

This is, ironically, exactly why you should tell people about your New Year’s resolutions – so that they can hold you accountable if you slip. “If you tell your friends and family that you have made a resolution to quit smoking, they will remind you of that goal and hopefully encourage you onwards,” says Ben Stocken, founder of team performance experts West Peak. “Get the plan, create some accountability and you’ll get the results.”

When you feel like giving up, don’t
Well, yes, obviously, you’re thinking, and if my Grandma had wheels she’d be a bike. But there will come a time – usually around two weeks in, according to research – when your initial drive begins to slacken. The trick is to be aware of this slump, and to push through, while constantly thinking about how good you’ll feel if you do actually go to the gym, or finish that book, or whatever it is that you’re aiming for.

Even just doing a small amount of what you planned to can be enough – like going for a shorter run, for example, or writing 250 words instead of 500. You’ll often end up going the whole hog anyway. “When you feel like loosening up on your resolution, push yourself to do one more thing,” says Stocken. “You might not do everything you planned to that day, but you didn’t give up. That little thing is often enough to get you over a motivational slump.”

Focus on the ‘why’
Most people don’t just settle on a New Year’s resolution randomly. There’s usually a reason that you’re incorporating something, or giving something up – you want to look your best, for example, or have enough money to one day buy a house. Psychologist Dr Alison McClymont says that it can be really helpful to focus on the ‘why’ behind your resolutions, and zone in on them, maybe even write them down. “People who find it easier to stick to resolutions often report they have done a lot soul searching around their ‘why’ – why do they want to do this? What will it bring them?” she says.

“People who have identified their ‘why’ feel an emotional connection to the idea and are therefore more likely to find intrinsic motivation to stick with it,” she adds. “If there is no sense of a positive future self established, someone is less likely to stick with their goal, as they cannot visualise a successful outcome.”

Go easy on yourself
This is especially pertinent if you’re thinking about quitting something in the New Year, because an all-or-nothing approach can often set you up for failure. If you’re trying to quit fast food and end up slipping and demolishing a burger and fries on a night out, the world’s not going to collapse in on itself. You can just try again the next day. I was personally only able to give up smoking, for example, by limiting myself to social smoking only, which made it easier to eventually cut it out entirely (or, you know, for the most part). “Go easy on yourself as you ease into the first month of the year and set yourself more of a timeline,” says Dr Tyron. “Change doesn’t happen all at once.”

To read the original article on GQ magazine go to the link below;


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