Hacking Your New Year's Resolutions

Hacking Your New Year's Resolutions

Here’s how you beat the odds and accomplish your newfound goals

Whether you think of it as a slight refresh or total reset, New Year’s provides the ideal for time for a new beginning. Perhaps you’re going to start a new hobby. Or you plan on losing that dreaded “quarantine 15.” Maybe you’ve got a work-related goal or just want to swear less. The term “resolution” simply means making a decision to do something or not do something. But if you want to achieve this goal and not see your motivation drift away by mid-February, you need to approach things differently this year. We consulted some experts for scientifically-proven ways to hack your resolution, helping you stick to your plan and achieve your goal. Here’s to conquering 2021 from day one.

Stick to One

When it comes to resolutions, or any goal for that matter, focus is your friend. Don’t overwhelm your willpower by making too many. Focus on one significant goal so that you can properly prepare for it, manage a plan, and monitor your progress. After all, this is about seeing through a change that should last all year. Come March or April, the goal that excited you in January may seem less important. Focusing your time and energy on one singular goal will result in an attainable and worthwhile change.

Rewire Your Habit Loop

According to Charles Duhigg, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Power of Habit, you need to short circuit bad habits and rewire good ones. In his Big Think interview, he explains how you can do it to create a good habit of sticking with a new exercise plan:

“Eat a piece of chocolate after you work out. And what's amazing about this is that you will only eat that piece of chocolate for the first week and a half. You'll set up a cue, running clothes by your bed or you lace up your shoes before breakfast, something to trigger the behavior. You go on your run or you work out then you come home and eat a piece of chocolate [and] your brain will begin encoding. Your brain will eventually enjoy exercise for exercise sake - endorphins and endocannabinoids will create a sense of reward.”

To build a strong habit, Duhigg notes, the reward part of the habit loop needs to come immediately after the routine. Focusing your reward only on the ultimate goal (weight loss or a perfect set of abs) will not cause your brain to associate the routine with something instantly rewarding.

Embrace Your Natural Competitiveness

Nick Winter, author of The Motivation Hacker, says successful life hackers use “gamification,” including top scores, leader-boards, and achievement levels, to piggy-back on obsessive behaviors or natural competitive steaks. A spreadsheet of hours on task and words written, with a running average and personal bests, can help an author complete a manuscript, he says. Or make public and irreversible commitments using apps like Beeminder, which takes your money when goals are missed. Winter committed to a $7,290 penalty for failing to skydive, which lessened his anxiety about jumping.

Guide Your Path With SMART Increments

Your resolution mission needs a map. Without one, you’re liable to suffer the dreaded “February fail.” No matter how you specific your goal, you need signposts to help you guide your path and measure your success along the way. The S.M.A.R.T. philosophy is often referenced by time-management gurus to guide the development of measurable goals. Psychologist Randy J. Paterson says SMART goals allow you to create immediate objectives to make your ultimate resolution more manageable. Ideally, these objectives should be:

- Specific: Target an exact area for improvement.
- Measurable: quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
- Actionable: It should be something you can do, not just feel.
- Realistic: state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related: specify a clear schedule and end point for completion.

If you’re looking to cut back on sugar, don’t simply make the resolution to “eat less sweets.” Instead, set an objective to only allow yourself sweets on the weekend for the first month. It's specific, measurable, time-defined, and more realistic than cutting out sugar cold turkey. Then you can set a new objective to only allow yourself a specific amount of sugar on weekends until you've mastered the problem you resolved to solve.

* FYI: The origin of making New Year's resolutions began with the Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. They would make promises to the gods in hopes of earning good favor in the coming year.
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