It’s the end of the year again, when last year's resolutions have long been forgotten and we're preparing to get back on the bandwagon come Jan. 1. But you don’t have to wait for a special time of year to get into a new routine — it matters more that you're in the right frame of mind.
Turns out if you’re trying to start a new habit, the best time to do so may be in the morning. A new study found that when people adopted a single, simple new habit in the morning, like stretching for 15 seconds (which is supposed to help reduce stress levels), they were more likely to stick to it than if they started at night. It’s most likely linked to cortisol levels, which are higher in the morning. Cortisol has been shown to have a positive role in habit formation.
The power of stubbornness
Another suggestion? Stick with it, especially at the beginning, because consistency is key. "When we practice something a number of times in a row, then it becomes a habit," explains Dr. Amy Hakim, industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and founder of The Cooper Strategic Group in Boca Raton, Florida. "If your New Year's resolution is to exercise daily, then commit to doing so for three weeks straight. Set a specific time that you will exercise each day, and put it in your calendar. Treat that “appointment” as you might any other commitment. Keep track of your progress and reward yourself with a small 'prize' or token once you meet your goal."
Also, it’s important to be patient with yourself. Slip-ups are part of life. If you use those slip-ups as an excuse to ditch the new habit and pick back up right where you left off (say, going back to your usual muffin for breakfast instead of fixing yourself an omelet), then you’ll be less likely to stick with your new habit. If you fall off the bandwagon once or twice, forgive yourself, move on and recommit to your goal.
For all those people you know who make New Year's resolutions, here's this fact to ponder: it’s estimated that only 8 percent of us follow through with them. Why is it so hard?
Setting an attainable goal
"It’s difficult for people to stick with New Year’s resolutions because they sometimes say that they are going to do something, but do not specify exactly what they are going to do or how they are going to hold themselves accountable," explains Hakim.
"Consider setting a SMART goal (something that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely)," she continues. "The key is to hold yourself accountable by telling others about your goal. Set specific milestones that you will hit and specific rewards you will win. (Think of that star chart from when you were a kid.) Remember that it's much more attainable — and comfortable — to focus on achieving numerous smaller goals that will ultimately lead you to a larger goal."
So go ahead. Set that New Year’s resolution. And make that healthy habit stick this time around.