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I know how to see those New Year’s Resolutions through

by Phil Hesketh

We head into 2017 full of resolutions but few of us see them through to the bitter end. So what’s the trick? How do you change the habit of a lifetime?  

Here’s the answer…….

Firstly, according to research commissioned by BUPA, over three quarters of people who set New Year’s Resolutions fail to achieve their goal and a further 11% said they don’t actually KNOW whether they achieved the goal or not.

Amazing.

And another recent study by Dr Philippa Lally - Doo to her friends - revealed some interesting facts about how to successfully form new, long lasting habits. Together with her colleagues at University College London she recruited people who wanted to get into the habit of doing something healthy like eating a piece of fruit each day or taking a 15 minute run. Participants were then asked daily how automatic their chosen activity felt. Questions included things like whether the behaviour was ‘hard not to do’ and could be done ‘without thinking’, and ‘What’s that cream bun doing in your jacket pocket?’

Not surprisingly, the normal plateau curve occurred. That’s to say, after a period of time either the habit was formed and became automatic, or it became too much of an effort and they returned to reading a copy of the ‘Racing Post’ in the local pub. Typically, the plateau in ‘automaticity’ was reached after 66 days. Which meant that the new activity had become as much of a habit as it was ever going to be. However, although the average was 66 days, there was a marked variation in how long habits took to form. Anywhere from 18 days up to the thick end of nine months is possible. I think as a teenager it took me about three days to form the habit of drinking beer but I can’t remember very much about it now.

As you’d imagine, drinking a daily glass of water became automatic very quickly but doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast required more dedication. So what does this research tell us? 

Firstly, never try to do fifty sit-ups whilst drinking a glass of water. It’s not clever and it goes everywhere. 

But perhaps more importantly, it revealed that when we want to develop a relatively simple habit like eating fruit or taking exercise, it could still take us over two months of daily repetitions before the behaviour actually becomes a habit. And, while skipping single days isn’t detrimental in the long-term, it’s those early repetitions that give us the greatest boost in automaticity.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s something long and cool waiting for me in the fridge.