A Habit Formation approach to New Year’s Resolutions

According to Forbes, just 8% of people achieve their new year’s resolutions.  I haven’t kept careful track of my resolutions historically; in fact, I can’t even remember any of them, which is probably a good indication that I haven’t succeeded in the past.

This year I’m taking a radical new approach, building on ideas of habit formation to create what I hope will be a much more successful plan to create positive change in my life.

The Old Approach

The biggest challenge for me about New Year’s Resolutions is that when I think about the things I want to change or improve about myself, there are SO MANY things that come to mind. 🙂  I want to start writing regularly again, I need to exercise more regularly, I should do a better job of keeping in touch with friends.  The list goes on and on.

Once I have a list, I set out to tackle them all at once.  I think the excellent Hyperbole and a Half captures it very well.  At the beginning of the year I’m thinking

clean all the things

This lasts a few weeks, but very quickly I devolve into

clean all the things 2

And before you know it, my resolutions are out the window.

The New Approach

This year I’m doing something different.  Instead of attempting to tackle all of my resolutions at once, I’m approaching it from the perspective of forming habits, one habit at a time.  Each month I’m going to take a resolution I’d like to make and figure out how to formulate it into a new habit.  It’s hard to neglect the rest of my resolutions and just let them sit in a list, egging me on with all of the things I’d like to accomplish and am not really working on yet, but I’m forcing myself to tackle them one at a time.

This month, my entire focus is on getting myself in the habit of using a unified TODO system.  I’m using a web-based tool called GTDNext.com and working hard to build habits around capturing all of my tasks within it, reviewing my outstanding tasks every day, and making sure every day I have a 5-7 item todo list that I work through to keep myself moving forward.

My hope is that by only tackling one item at a time, and by giving myself an entire month to focus on building a habit around each resolution, I can create much more sustainable positive change in my life than I have from prior new year’s resolutions.  Since sustaining a habit is much easier than creating a new one, each month I should be able to move forward without losing the progress I’ve made on prior resolutions.

What about you?

What are some successful tactics you’ve used to achieve and keep new year’s resolutions?  What can you recommend?  Let me know in the comments!