Want your New Year’s resolutions to last?

Try habit linking. What is it? Keeping up a new year’s resolution is not easy, especially as many of us jump straight into the deep-end of transformation, planning to totally rewrite our alcohol habits or reach peak fitness, then feel demoralized when none of these changes happen overnight. “It is good for people to make two or three resolutions, which they hold lightly, not tightly,” says 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. Kelly believes it’s important that people don’t aim too high, but “resolve to make two or three modest changes in your life”. Realistically at least one will fizzle out quickly, he explains, so have a few ready so at least one or two will last.
Be wary of going too hard at the start of the month, too. “Aim to improve, not to transform your life,” says Kelly. “If you watch TV for two hours every evening, do not resolve to spend those two hours in the gym. You won’t do it.” Instead, aim to watch TV for an hour and spend that extra hour walking the dog, or something else you enjoy doing. “Replacing a pleasant activity with an unpleasant one does not work,” he stresses.

“Do a weekly check-up,” advises Chris Bailey, author of How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus and The Productivity Project. Reflecting on the habits you’ve kept up or want to implement is a great way to enhance motivation. Similarly, he recommends charting long-term goals over time. So, if you’re trying to write a novel draft for example, break that insurmountable word count down into weekly chunks. “This helps me make sure I stick with my goals in the long run and lets me visually see how much progress I’m making over time,” It’s a strategy suited for goals that rely on steady work over a long period of time, like saving money or losing weight.

Another trick to consider is forming a new habit, rather than trying to break an old one, like adding that extra dog walk into your life rather than mentally deciding to cut your TV time. “It is easier to make new habits than to break old ones because when you are trying to break a habit you are fighting against strong mental associations you have formed between a situation and an action,” Lally explains. “Over 80% of what we do is habit,” Kelly adds, so “linking a new activity to an old habit helps the new activity to become a habit.”