New Year’s day is approaching, and it’s a moment to take stock in our lives, set our sights on the horizon, and adjust our sails. New Year’s resolutions can offer a fresh reset and a valuable tool to move us closer to our dreams and targets.
But New Year’s goals are a double-edged sword, and studies show a stunning 80% of these resolutions fail. For most people, they’ve lost their motivation before the end of February. How can you make sure you are in the 20% that succeed?
The answer is surprisingly simple: make your New Year’s resolution a mini habit.
What is a Mini Habit?
A mini habit is a very small positive behavior that you do every day. The strategy is to make the habit “too small to fail.” The results are habits that stick and discipline that builds.
In his book Mini Habits, Stephen Guise talks about how he transformed his life by setting a New Year’s resolution of a single push-up per day. While a 30-minute daily workout goal was a recipe for failure, one push-up was achievable, so he did it every day. Since he was already doing one push-up, some days he started adding a couple more. Then he added jumping jacks, and by the end of the year, he had reached his fitness goals.
His experience blossomed into the “mini habit” movement that he has applied to all different areas of life. It worked for him, and it can work for you too.
Why Do Mini Habits Work?
The human brain is stable and repetitive, and that’s a good thing. Can you imagine a world where we could radically change our behavior back and forth between one day and the next? It would feel erratic and chaotic. Our brains are wired for repetition. The key is to teach your brain what to repeat.
While most of your brain follows patterns, the prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that can imagine “what could be” and offers executive function and free will. The prefrontal cortex understands long-term benefits and can override the pattern-driven part of your brain. The key to long-term change is to teach the pattern-driven part of your brain to seek what the prefrontal cortex wants, and this is done through repetition. Repetition can absolutely help you keep your New Year’s resolution all year long.
How to Build Repetition: Willpower versus Motivation
To repeat a behavior, there are two basic starting points: willpower and motivation. These two change agents operate very differently:
- Motivation is based on feelings, and feelings are ever-changing. You may feel highly motivated to do something on January 1st, but by January 21st, you may have a different set of feelings and a lower amount of enthusiasm about your goal. If you link your habit to motivation and your excitement to do it, your performance will be inconsistent and much more likely to fail. Motivation is important, but you can think of it like frosting on the cake.
- Willpower, on the other hand, is the ability to do something regardless of your emotional state. Because it is independent of your feelings, it is more reliable, and willpower has the advantage of being something that can be consistently developed, almost like a muscle. It grows with each repetition. Exercising willpower, however, takes energy, and this is where mini habits come in.
Mini habits are highly effective in building repetition because they harness willpower instead of motivation.
I’ve experienced mini habit willpower on a personal level. It is important to me to have a consistent daily yoga practice, and I’ve maintained this goal since 2009. How have I been so consistent for over a decade? Because I set my daily minimum as three minutes. Most days I do more, but on a day where I’m really tired or I haven’t planned well, I do a three-minute exercise or meditation. That’s it. But it is enough to keep my willpower muscle flexed so that I show up again for a longer practice the next day.
The human brain is slow-changing, but that’s what makes it stable. Rewiring synapses and creating new neural pathways takes repetition and effort. It’s the consistency that makes your New Year’s resolutions succeed, so set your sights on a mini habit and watch 2022 unfold.
5 Mini Habits That Would Make Great New Year’s Resolutions
- Declutter one thing per day from your home
- Write 50 words per day
- Eat one vegetable per day
- Drink 8 ounces of water per day
- Meditate for one minute per day.
It is important to remember that too small does not exist in mini habits! Your goal is to make your habit too small to fail while you retrain your brain.
If you want to try a yoga mini-habit for the new year, try one of these short practices:
With mini habits, you’ll be unstoppable and soon find you are in the 20% who achieve their New Year’s resolutions.