How many New Year’s resolutions did you make? More important, how many have you already broken? If you’re like most people, you may intend to do things differently, but somehow, you get off track. What is it that stops most of us? It’s the force of habit.

Habits can support you to have a higher-quality life, to take positive action more easily, and to keep your New Year’s resolutions. Conversely, habits can trap you in old behaviors that block you from achieving our goals. In most cases, when you break a New Year’s resolution, it’s the force of habit that is responsible. 

Regardless of whether it supports you, each of your habits takes time and energy to maintain. When a habit no longer provides a benefit, this habit not only takes up space in your life, it also drains you of valuable time, energy and other resources.

For example, you may have the habit of holding an open house each Sunday and relying exclusively on a newspaper ad and your signs to attract potential clients. If your open houses fail to generate regular leads, this habit is draining your time, energy and your pocketbook.

Awareness: the first step in making your New Year’s resolutions stick

In order to make your resolutions stick, you must recognize what behaviors are habitual for you as well as determining what habits do and do not support you.

To evaluate the habits in your life, keep a journal for the next week. What are the habits you engage in each day? For example, brushing and flossing your teeth is a healthy habit. Munching on chips while watching a ballgame on television isn’t as healthy. Note each habit you engage in and then evaluate whether it supports you in terms of what you would like to achieve in your life.

One habit at a time

Next, identify no more than three behaviors that you would like to change. The goal is to successfully change at least one of these. Start with the behavior that will be easiest to change and tackle the difficult ones after mastering some of the easier ones. In general, the quickest way to let an old habit or behavior expire is to replace it with another activity that better supports your life.

To illustrate, instead of munching in front of the television, consider taking a class, calling an old friend, or doing something that gets you away from the fridge and the television. Habits are virtually impossible to break when you go cold turkey, but are often easily changed when you substitute something else.

Change your routine

You can change your behavior by changing your routine. For example, if you normally munch on snacks while watching television at night, brush your teeth and rinse with mouthwash as soon as you end your meal. Brushing signals your body that you have finished eating. You can use the strength of one habit (in this case, brushing your teeth) to help you break the munching habit.

What benefits are blocking you from changing?

Habits often stay in place just from doing them regularly. For instance, if you’re playing two or three hours of computer games each day, this habit may be extremely costly to your business. The challenge here is that many habits are unconscious. You log in to the game expecting to play for five minutes and you’re still playing an hour later.

To break this habit, you must first ask, "What benefit am I getting from continuing this habit?" The unconscious benefit could be to release tension, take your mind off a problem, or to interact with others when you’re feeling lonely. Before you can break the habit, you must identify what it is that keeps you continuing to engage in the behavior. Once you identify the benefits, you’re in a better place to find alternatives that are more effective. 

Determine the costs and the benefits of keeping the habit

The second component is to identify whether the benefits of keeping the habit outweigh the costs. Again, the simplest way to break a habit is to substitute another behavior that provides greater benefits.

Question before acting

When you’re about to engage in an old habit you want to eliminate, stop yourself and ask, "Is doing this behavior one more time really worth the cost or is engaging in a different behavior a better choice?" By asking this simple question before you choose to engage in the habitual behavior, you are making a conscious choice about your actions.

Remember, the best way to change your behavior is to begin with the easy ones first. Substituting alternative behaviors for the old behaviors that you would like to eliminate is a great way to keep your New Year’s resolutions while allowing all those pesky old habits to expire for once and for all.

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