New Year’s Resolutions, How to Make Them Stick.

Yes, it is that time of year again. The indulgence of the holiday season more often than not leads to the desire to make changes. Therefore, the time honoured standard of New Year’s Resolutions rear their ugly heads.

From a positive perspective, people want to make changes to better their lives, or those around them. Not very often does someone profess that they want to start swearing more, exercise less and eat more junk food. Often, resolutions are aimed at improving our lives and our physical selves which ultimately benefits our societal environments.

We’ve all heard the advice; start with small, attainable goals, don’t quit if relapses occur, recruit a friend or family member to help, etc. We also all know people in our lives or network who have made some type of drastic change and stuck with it, all have different formulas to their successes. Ultimately what is the mechanism of change? Well, most would agree that it comes down to our ability to make and act on decisions or will power.

Will poweris innate in all of us, but the capacity of will is an individual trait. Some have no problem making 180 degree turns in their live, while other struggle with the littlest changes. Most lie somewhere in between. Let me tell you a little secret, will power can be improved in any individual. Your ability to want and make change is not etched in stone, your will power can be taught through habits.

According to researchers, 40 to 45% of the decisions we make on a daily basis are actually habits. That is an astounding number! Think about it, we are not actually making conscious decisions for nearly half of our days. The good news is that we are not powerless to these habits. The first step is realizing that we all have habits, some good, some bad and maybe some with little purpose. Once we realize this fact we must pay closer attention to these little things on the periphery of our consciousness that affect our decisions. Then we can identify our habits. If you can diagnose your habits you can change them in whatever way you want.

According to Charles Duhigg, the author of ‘The Power of Habit’, habits all have 3 definitive stages:

  1. a cue
  2. a routine after the cue
  3. a reward

So, let’s tie all this back to our New Year’s resolutions. If we want to start a new habit/routine; create a cue, plan a routine in and around the habit, and create a reward for yourself. For example, if you want to start walking/running/exercising in the mornings, create a cue to start the process. Place your running shoes and workout clothes by the door. Plan the activity which becomes the routine (e.g. walk 5K), and then create a reward. If we are trying to improve our health, then it’s probably not a good idea to sabotage the goals with a donut, so that reward may be a relaxing shower or to sit and listen to our favourite music for example.

On the other hand, if we are trying to change or end an existing habit, we must identify the cue(s). The example Duhigg uses in his book was his love of chocolate chip cookies at his office cafeteria every day at 3:30 in the afternoon. He realized that his cue was the time of day where he had been sitting at his desk with little social interaction since lunch. By identifying the cue, he was able to change the routine by doing different things instead of heading to the cafeteria. He would go for a walk or stay at his desk. He then realized that reward was less about the chocolate chip cookie and more about the social interaction in the cafeteria, so he turned this habit into a break where he would engage with his colleagues.

In short, we must premeditate the cues and rewards in our lives in order to create new habits or stop detrimental ones. This is the basis of a resolution and the only hope of making them stick. From a BOKS perspective, since we are passionate about the benefits of physical activity and exercise on our children, here is some food for thought: our habits are likely to become those of our children. Any positive habits/routines we display more often engulf those in our inner circles. This gives good reason to make those resolutions that support our health and physical well-being, they also will benefit those around us.


BOKS Regional Coordinator, Atlantic Canada