Psychology of Habit Change

How to Hit Those New Year’s Resolutions

Each year millions of people set New Year’s resolutions. And each year, millions will break those resolutions in only a few short weeks. People don’t fail at resolutions because they lack the desire to change, but rather, they fail because they don’t know how to harness the hidden power of their unconscious mind for their benefit. In other words, they don’t know how to change their habits.

Habit change is based on three simple steps: a cue, a behavior, and a reward.

Step 1: The cue is an internal or external stimulus that communicates to your unconscious mind to take a certain action. This is sometimes referred to as a trigger or an anchor.

Step 2: The behavior is the habit itself that you’re looking to incorporate into your daily life.

Step 3: The reward is an instantaneous response that occurs after each time the behavior occurs. Note: this is not the same as an external reward that you give yourself upon keeping a certain habit for several days or months. This must be a system that generates every time you do a certain act.

First, connect your goals to daily habits. Even the loftiest of goals must get broken down into daily habits. Whether it’s relationship, career, health or personal goals, what will you do every day or every week in order to make that happen?

Then, confirm that the habits you are looking to incorporate are intrinsically valuable to you. If a habit is misaligned with how you see yourself unconsciously, then your mind will continue to challenge the new habit and make it incredibly difficult to maintain. 

Next, discover your cue or trigger in your daily life that will prompt you to start the behavior. Find something in your daily life that you do as regularly as the habit you are looking to initiate. Connect the new habit with your existing behavior.

Last, feel your reward. This can be something as simple as feeling the endorphin high after a long run or a positive feeling from completing your to-do list. For the best chance at making a habit stick, make this an instantaneous reward, not something that you work for over time.

Individuals who accomplish all of the above have all of the tools to conquer this year’s habits. In my experience as a psychiatrist, there are two reasons you may still be struggling: either you are dealing with limiting beliefs preventing you from creating authentic habits and goals or you are dealing with underlying untreated mental health issues. If you’re stuck, there is always hope for a powerful future.

If you’re having trouble meeting your goals, then get back to the basics. Start with habit change.

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