How to Make Healthy New Habits That Stick
Changing behaviors isn’t easy, but science shows us how to do it.
Whether you’re stressed out, physically exhausted or generally down in the dumps— or all of the above — what you need is the promise of some serious life change. And I don’t mean promising to exercise more, lose weight or find happiness. Your brain simply isn’t programmed to achieve such lofty, vague goals.
“Our brain silently drives our behavior as if we are still ancient humans living in prehistoric conditions, and it feeds our addictive behaviors,” says Selena Bartlett, PhD, a researcher of addiction neuroscience and obesity at the University of Queensland in Australia. “So when we are stressed our brain seeks pleasure, which is quite often why New Year’s resolutions are so easily broken.”
That doesn’t mean life-changing resolutions are doomed to fail. The trick to self-improvement goals is to choose them thoughtfully and have a plan to make ’em stick. Here are some science-backed approaches to making successful changes in your life, whether in the new year or at any time.
The most common New Year’s resolutions, similar to our desires for positive change throughout the year, are nebulous statements related to weight loss, eating better or exercising more. Have you tried one of these before? How’d it go? According to various studies, most New Year’s resolutions fade in weeks or months — especially those that aren’t specific.
Specific, enticing and easily achievable resolutions, just like any goals in life, are more motivating, research shows, and you can build on each success with a fresh goal that’s well within your new reach.
An achievable goal “is not abstract, like ‘improve my health,’ but concrete — such as ‘increase my daily step count’ or ‘drink sparkling water rather than sugared soda at lunch,’” says Richard Ryan, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Rochester.
“I make ridiculously small goals so I will keep going,” says Whitney Johnson, author of the new business-oriented book Smart Growth. “For example, I wanted to be a runner, so I started with five minutes every day and alternated between walking and running for…