This Is the Most Common New Year's Resolution Mistake

Photo:  Dilok Klaisataporn (Shutterstock)
Photo: Dilok Klaisataporn (Shutterstock)

Many new year’s resolutions (and old year’s resolutions) involve starting new, life-improving habits. And while that’s a great idea in theory, the reality is that making lifestyle changes is really hard.

Unfortunately, there’s no silver-bullet solution to this problem, but there is a common mistake many people make when beginning new habits. Here’s what to know, including how to avoid it.

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Why starting a new habit is so hard

While having lofty goals is one thing, it’s important to have realistic expectations for yourself. But even that’s hard.

TikTok and Instagram are awash with posts that condense months—or even years—of hard work into one-minute transformation videos. We want and expect instant gratification, but sadly, that’s not how habit forming works. The figures vary, but one study suggests that it usually takes around two months of doing something to make it a habit—and a lot of us don’t make it that long.

So where do we go wrong? Again, it comes down to expectations. More specifically, that we tend to be pretty harsh on ourselves when make any perceived missteps when attempting to develop a new habit.

When we go in with an all-or-nothing mindset—unwilling to accept anything short of perfection—and inevitably don’t live up to those expectations, we perceive it as a failure, and rationalize giving up.

Embrace flexibility and creativity when forming a new habit

Rather than taking a rigid approach, embrace flexibility and creativity instead.

“Creativity and habit change are intricately intertwined,” Jack McGourty, PhD, an adjunct business professor at Columbia University, told Health in an interview. “Creative thinking allows us to develop new and innovative ways to incorporate our habits into our lives, even when faced with challenges or distractions.”

Here are a few strategies to consider:

Adjust your expectations

Ditch that rigid approach, and go in with the understanding that mistakes and missteps will happen, and that’s OK, and completely normal. In fact, expect to make mistakes along the way—or, better yet, don’t think of them as mistakes, but rather, part of the process.

Switch it up

Some of the more common new year’s resolution habits—like getting in shape, or cutting out sugar, alcohol, or caffeine—have widely accepted guidelines and formulas for “success,” breaking down what you’re supposed to be doing each week or month. But we don’t all think or operate the same way, so one-size-fits-all approaches were never feasible.

So if the traditional route to that habit doesn’t do it for you, switch it up. Set your own schedule and benchmarks, and if you discover unconventional approaches that works for you, embrace them.

Give yourself time and space to get creative

When it comes to developing a new habit, many people opt to follow established guidelines simply because it’s easier. Someone else has done the work of coming up with a plan: You just have to follow it. But, as we discussed above, there’s no guarantee that it will work for you.

Sure, using established guidelines means you can jump right in and get started, and while that seems like it would save time, if you’re unable to stick with it and ultimately give up, it really doesn’t.

Instead, allow yourself to take the time and space you need to come up with a plan for developing the habit based on your strengths and lifestyle. Yes, taking a creative approach requires more initial time and effort, but setting yourself up for success is totally worth it.

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