It’s that time of year, when we vow to make good on our New Year’s resolutions. Because we want big results, we start with big goals. We resolve to go to the gym an hour every day. Eat healthy — all the time. Or spend a half hour meditating every day. Yet, as goal-setting goes, starting big seldom leads to results.
In fact, only a small percentage of us keep our New Year’s resolutions. A 2017 University of Scranton External Site study suggests that only 9 percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals.
"Stack" on healthy habits you're already doing
If you’re looking for a new approach to goal setting and self-improvement, try “habit stacking.” The idea is simple: You take your current healthy habits and build on them, a little bit at a time.
With habit stacking, you first consider the good habits you maintain daily. Many of them are strong habits that you may take for granted — eating a healthy breakfast, spending time stretching or taking the dog for a walk. Others seem mundane, yet they are also important: brushing your teeth, wearing a seatbelt or locking the doors at night.
Next, you find a new behavior or habit that you want to adopt, and you “stack” it or add it to the habit you already have in place.
For example, flossing after brushing your teeth. Meditating for five minutes after your healthy breakfast. Or lift weights for five minutes after you take your dog for a walk.
“Habit-stacking works because you’re more likely to stick to a new behavior if it links to a pattern, task or habit already built into your brain,” says Angie Allen, a licensed mental health counselor in Clive, Iowa. “You’ll stick to the new behavior if it isn’t a huge commitment of time and effort. Start small and work your way into the habit.”
Safety: Before I put on my seatbelt, I will turn off my phone. Quality-time: Before tucking my child into bed, I will read to her for five minutes. Meditation: After I make my morning coffee, I will mediate for one minute. Getting organized: Before I turn on the TV, I will organize a shelf, cabinet or drawer. Hydration: Before I eat dinner, I will drink a cup of water. Kindness/appreciation: After I get home from work, I will compliment my spouse. Gratitude: Before I go to bed, I will think of one person I am grateful for. Procrastination-busting: Before I check my email, I will complete one task on my to-do list.
“If you have a fitness-oriented resolution but do not have an established fitness routine, start with a trigger, such as eating lunch,” says Allen. “Then add, ‘After I eat lunch, I will walk for five minutes.’ It’s likely that once you get started, you’ll find it easy to tack on more time to the activity.”
Or, if you want to strengthen your core, start with a trigger, such as making your bed in the morning. Start with 10 crunches. As time goes on, you can add more crunches. Or, you can add a plank and gradually increase your endurance.
For more established fitness routines, you can “stack” new exercises onto your current workout. For example, if you want to build strength, stack five minutes of weight lifting onto your morning run. If you want to work on flexibility, stack five minutes of stretching. If you want to build speed into your cardio, stack five minutes of interval training. Simply take your goal and build it into your workout.