Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Toss Your Resolutions Out the Window (and Try This Instead)

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Are you one of the estimated 45% of Americans who will make New Year’s resolutions this year? According to a 2002 study published in the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology, you only have an 8% chance of being successful.


While I'm all for trying to beat the odds, this year I challenge you to throw resolutions out the window and focus on something that's bound to bring you more success: changing a habit.

The idea is to take a single action and consciously fit it into your schedule until it becomes second nature, like brushing your teeth. Rather than trying to "get in shape" or "have better work-life balance" until you give up, imagine a world where you're in the habit of eating more vegetables and less fast food, leaving work on time each day, and making time for friends every weekend. By adopting these specific habits, you're building a foundation that will set you up for success not just in 2014, but for the rest of your life.

The reason habits are so interesting for people who want to better their lives is that after an initial investment, they require very little energy. Various urban myths claim that sticking to something for three weeks makes it a habit, but a 2009 study at University College London determined that it can take people up to 66 days—or 9.5 weeks—for a behavior to become automatic. So, if you start on January 1, that means putting in a little energy each day until March 7 to make an action into an habit and have a long-term impact on your life.

To get to those 66 days, I recommend using the app Lift to track your progress. It's free and has a host of great features, like time-tagged reminders to do an action, and support from the community. What I love most is the emails letting me know when I'm on a "21-day streak drinking the recommended amount of water" or a "five-day streak exercising." Just like the Seinfeld habit calendar, there's a big emotional incentive not to break a streak once you've put in the time to get there.

Where to Start

Now, as tempting as it is for you overachieving Muses to try and take on 10 habits at once, I strongly recommend starting with just one. (Hey, you can always do this again come March.) To narrow down your options, think of one of your big life goals, and figure out the smallest possible step you can take toward that goal. As inspiration, I've drawn up a starter list for a few of the most popular goals:

Goal: Be Healthier

  • Drink a glass of water every day when you wake up
  • Have a serving of vegetables with lunch every day
  • Do 20 crunches before every shower
  • Goal: Learn a New Skill

    • Write for 15 minutes a day
    • Listen to a podcast each day during your commute
    • Read one article on Pocket during your lunch break each day
    • Goal: Get Organized

      • Put away your clothes at the end of each day
      • File or sort mail as soon as it comes in
      • Tidy your desk before leaving work every evening
      • Scott Britton, a lifestyle entrepreneur who blogs at, once shared with me the question that helped me choose a goal that would make a difference in my life and be motivating enough for me to want to work on it every day: "If I did this 'task' every day (or week, or month), would I become the person I want to be? Would I achieve what I want to achieve?"

        So, what are you waiting for? Pick a small action, make it into a daily habit, and start becoming the person you want to be, today.

        Photo of calendar courtesy of Shutterstock.