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December 31, 2013 at 6:00 AM

How to keep New Year’s resolutions: Tiny habits

You’re thinking about those New Year’s resolutions, right? In 2014 you’re going to shed those extra pounds! Get healthy. Sleep more. Be 100 percent debt-free.

How many have failed time and again to accomplish big, broad goals because of the rush to achieve results? Maybe they didn’t examine the process. Or form a realistic plan. My own tendency to attempt extreme changes is rarely sustainable beyond a few days, whether it’s getting up at 5 a.m. to work out or attempting a juice cleanse.

Maybe we need to stop being so hard on ourselves. Change things up by starting really small, says BJ Fogg, a social scientist and director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab. Watch his TED Talk below on forming tiny habits to reach long-term goals:

According to a recent University of Scranton survey published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, about 45 percent of Americans make new year’s resolutions. Eight percent are successful; 49 percent report “infrequent” success; 24 percent report they’ve failed each year.

Below is a list of the study’s top resolutions for 2014. Look familiar?

1. Lose weight

2. Getting organized

3. Spend less, save more

4. Enjoy life to the fullest

5. Staying fit and healthy

6. Learn something exciting

7. Quit smoking

8. Help others in their dreams

9. Fall in love

10. Spend more time with family

Setting an intention is better than not, but it’s easy for most to get frustrated by the prospect of committing to a bunch of goals they’ll inevitably give up on. Chalk it up to a lack of will power, specificity and time.

There’s plenty of reading out there to help people accomplish their resolutions, but Fogg’s “tiny habit” approach to changing behavior is different. It’s simple and rewards small victories along the way.

To accomplish our goals, he says we need motivation, ability and a trigger (a call to action). To do something hard, you need to sustain high levels of motivation.

“After you do a tiny behavior that you want to repeat, you’re going to celebrate victory immediately,” he says. “Right away. You need to tell yourself in some way that you’re awesome!”

For instance, he started doing two push-ups every time he went to the bathroom. After a while, he was motivated to do a few more each time. His efforts added up to 50, 60, or 70 push-ups per day — a decent workout that also made him feel he had accomplished something. Fogg also tried tweeting his daily weight (@bjfogg), and once it reached a high (and embarrassing) number, he was motivated to change a series of tiny habits to shed the unwanted pounds. He figured out that changing his environment and designing a system of behaviors — tiny habits — leads to healthier, sustainable outcomes.

So what’s the first step? Change starts with accepting our existing behavior, and adding a new behavior after it.

Fogg’s format:

“After I (existing behavior), I will (new habit).”

Here’s an example for someone trying to, say, add a little spark to his or her marriage:

“After I enter the house at the end of the day, I will kiss my wife for 10 seconds.”

And here’s another example for someone trying to stress less at work:

“After I sit at my desk, I will take three deep breaths.”

Sounds easy enough, but you know what they say — “old habits are hard to break.” Start with a plan. Think big, but act by making small adjustments. Be kind to yourself. Celebrate the little wins along the way.

Good luck with those new year’s resolutions. And have a great 2014.

Comments | Topics: bj fogg, new year, resolutions

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