New Years resolutions and habit formation

It might be stopping smoking, improving our fitness, focusing on the quality of our diet, or taking time out to focus on our self-care. Research has shown that new year’s resolutions, whilst popular, are difficult to stick to. Research also shows us that it takes at least 66 days to form a new habit until it becomes automatic, so the first 66 days will be really challenging while our brains create the new neural pathways. During this time, it is important that we give ourselves the best chance to succeed.
New Years resolutions

To form a habit there are four simple rules you can employ:

1.Make it obvious
2.Make it attractive
3.Make it easy
4.Make it satisfying

Make it obvious

To elicit a response, we must be exposed to a cue. Our behaviours are largely shaped by what we can see in front of us. By simply adding a visual reminder, we can greatly improve the likelihood of us performing a habit we are trying to engrain in our brains. An example: Put our gym clothes out before we go to bed at night so we can see them in the morning.

Make it attractive

Our brains are primed to make us act when we expect a reward. We are creatures that value inclusiveness and community; we naturally have a desire to fit in and feel valued. We should seek to surround ourselves with a culture where your desired behaviour is the norm and where you have something in common with other members. An example: After our workout, we are allowed to buy a coffee.

Make it easy

When we are required to act, we naturally gravitate to the path of least resistance. We are always looking to economise our actions so we can perform as many as necessary. If we want to make a new habit stick, we must reduce the amount of friction associated with performing it. To do this, we can try strategies such as priming our environments. Like putting your gym clothes out before bed so you see them the next morning, this also makes the process easier as it saves you time and energy. Downsizing can also help form a habit by making the desired activity easier. An example: Instead of trying to do too much (especially at the start), we could try to walk for 30 minutes instead or running.

Make it satisfying

We already know that habits are a means of satisfying our cravings. The brain has evolved to prioritise instant rewards over delayed ones, so we should always try to reward performing a new habit immediately. One of the easiest ways to gain satisfaction is to feel like you’re making progress. If you note down on a calendar every day that you perform your desired habit and start forming a streak, the satisfaction of this will keep you going to ensure the habit is performed repeatedly. An example: Keep a journal tracking our progress so we can more easily see how we have improved.

As humans, every behaviour we perform is underpinned by a four-step process:


Essentially, the cue prompts a craving, which provokes a response, which delivers a reward. This satisfies the craving and becomes associated with the cue, which our brains then redeploy when faced with the same stimulus. Our bodies do this because we have finite conscious cognitive resource, and having to consciously decide on our responses each time would limit our ability to perform other tasks.

Practical strategies for creating new habits:

Goal setting

Make a plan and write down the goal or goals you want to achieve. Make your goals specific and measurable and use the SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Time-based) to help you set them. Always address what your barriers are going to be and what is the solution when they arise? This means you are already one step ahead.

Social support

As we enter the new year, millions of people around the world are also looking to create new habits. If you can, reach out to family, friends or colleagues and work together to accomplish your new habits. Are there local clubs or communities which can also help support your change? Utilise the power of social support.

Habit stacking

We all have habits that we carry out every day, from brushing our teeth to making a coffee in the morning. Habit stacking is a practical strategy where we stack the new habit after or before a current habit. Our current habits are already in place and wired in our brain, so utilise these to better support your new habit.


We always set ourselves really high standards and think we are going to make a fresh start and achieve all our new habits. It is inevitable when implementing new habits there will be times where we slip back into old habits, but it is so important that we are kind to ourselves and be compassionate towards oneself. If we do slip back into an old habit the fresh start is not ruined, mistakes or failures don’t ruin our goals.