Cynical about New Year Resolutions? Focus on habits instead

New Year Resolutions often don’t work but habits do. The trick is to make our habits helpful so that they work for us.

If you are cynical about New Year Resolutions then you’re not alone and you have good reason to be. 1 in 5 of us make resolutions, of those only a quarter keep them after a month, and a fraction of those accomplish them (

Resolutions tend to be about forcing change to “fix” rather than creating something fresh and exciting.

At Fresh Air Fridays we don’t hold much store with New Years Resolutions. We believe that no one needs “fixing” and that anyone can start creating their life newly at any time of the year.

Instead of resolutions we suggest focusing on breaking old habits and creating new ones. Here’s how we do it.

1. Know your why

Context is everything. On our sessions we often encourage people not to “should on themselves”. Words like “should” and “ought” can feel like commands. Changing those words to “could” makes it more of a choice. Doing something because of the benefits it provides us is much more empowering than doing it because we have been told to.

Our Why helps us stay focused when willpower and self-discipline wanes. Think about a goal you’ve chosen and ask yourself “what will that give me?”

Here are a few examples. Exercising more will give me greater health, fitness and self esteem. I want to read more because it is relaxing, enjoyable and interesting. Saving money provides me with more choice, freedom and independence. More time spent with family and friends allows us to feel connected, supported and it’s fun.

2. Ten second rule

Make something harder or easier to do, depending on whether you want to break or create a habit. If you want to stop doing something make sure it would take at least 10 seconds to do that thing.

For example, if you want to eat fewer biscuits put the tin somewhere awkward and out of reach. If you want to avoid impulse buys use cash and leave your bank cards at home. Making it more difficult gives us thinking time to reconsider.

Alternatively, make it easier to do the things you want to do. Keep your book or guitar somewhere visible if you want to read or practice more.

3. Create unavoidable reminders and triggers

Use a sticky note or phone alert to remind you to contact that friend, or to read before bed. If you want to exercise first thing in the morning have your running things or yoga mat by your bed. Remove potential barriers; take your gym kit with you so you can workout on your way home, therefore avoiding the temptation stay in.

Habits are things we do automatically. So find ways of using reminders and triggers, to avoid the need to think about the behavior that you want to make a habit.

4. Be specific and simple

Know what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. For example, I will read for at least 10 minutes before bed every weekday. Or I will exercise first thing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.

Keep it simple. It might help to create a rule for yourself, “I read for pleasure at least 10 minutes every day” or “I run 3 times a week”. But do not use that rule as a stick to beat yourself with when you don’t do it!

5. Watch your language

Word are powerful. What we say to ourselves internally has a huge impact on how we feel and what we do. Positive affirmations can be helpful especially when it comes to habits.

Statements like “I am capable” “I am enough” “I can resist” “I am comfortable with my finances” can help us to retrain what we think, say and ultimately feel.

Louise Hay has written a fabulous book called “I can do it”, which is well worth reading.

6. Celebrate

Focus on the times you have achieved what you set out to do, rather than beating yourself up for the times you didn’t; “I read four days out of seven this week, that’s four more than I did before I started.” Don’t just focus on the end goal or result, celebrate the little wins along the way.

If you haven’t done what you intended to do, take some time to reflect on what would make a difference to achieving more. But be sure to put your energy into noticing what you have done. Remind yourself of your Why (step 1) and your “I am” and “I can” statements (step 4).

Share your successes with people that matter to you and you to them. Find your cheerleaders to celebrate with you and also to support your next steps.

At Fresh Air Fridays we are your cheerleaders, providing the space, support and skills for you to think about what is and isn’t working in your life. All our programmes will enable you to create a life you love, and to live a life you don’t need to recover from.

Our 2.5 – 3 hour community sessions run on a monthly basis and are the perfect way to experience what Fresh Air Fridays is all about. Your first session is FREE so you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain! Find a session near you, visit our Session List page.

written by

Mo Sanders