I am a long time member of Weight Watchers and my local gym where I have come to witness an annual tradition. Each January both organizations swell in membership and attendance. By mid-February we are back to the regulars, give or take a few faces. As a student of human behavior I have to ask myself, “What’s up with that?”

Well, I think we are all familiar with one of the shortest lived beings in the known universe, the New Year’s Resolution. Few things are born with more enthusiasm, vision, and determination, only to fade away before the valentines come out at CVS.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can turn those fragile resolutions into something far more resilient. You can create new habits. I love habits, at least those that move me toward more of what I want. The great thing about habits is that they work automatically. They require no thought, no struggle, no striving, beyond getting out of bed each morning.

As an example, as a kid growing up in New York City, I learned to look both ways before crossing the street. This still happens even though I now live on a quiet suburban dead end street. This is an automatic behavior that has promoted my health and well-being for the last 59 years with no effort that I can recall.

Looking both ways before crossing the street did not start out as an automatic behavior. My parents, teachers, and poorly produced public service announcements conspired to create this behavior for which I am grateful.

You may be considering making some changes with the New Year. Good for you! As a counseling organization, Capital EAP is all about making good changes. We are with you!

So, how can you build some new habits that can become so automatic that you can effortlessly enjoy their benefits? Charles Duhigg, in his excellent book, “The Power of Habit”, has described the following process:

  1. Choose a cue. For example, leave your running shoes by the door.
  2. Pick a reward, like a piece of chocolate when you get home from the gym. By the way this would not be a good reward for me because there is no such thing as one piece of chocolate. I might choose a long hot shower.
  3. Your brain connects the cue with the pleasure of the reward which will make it easier to keep going to the gym.
  4. In a few weeks, you won’t need the reward. Your brain will come to see the workout itself as the reward, and then you have an effortless habit. This is classical conditioning.

Duhigg recommends that you commit to your plan in writing. A great deal of research supports the benefit of writing down your plans as an aid in their achievement. Post the plan where you will see it often.

Your new resolutions can read, “This year when I see ____________ (cue), I will_____________ (habit) in order to get_____________. (Reward)

I find it also helps to have the support of others working to achieve the same or similar goals. A running buddy can keep you going when the weather suggests staying home. The pleasure of their company can also be its own reward.

Have a happy, healthy, and successful New Year!

By Philip Rainer, LCSW-R,Chief Clinical Officer