This Year, Don’t Make a Resolution. Join the Healthy Habit Challenge Instead!

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

We will never tell you to make a New Year’s resolution. For one, we like you just the way you are. Also because we know that most resolutions fail and we never want you to feel like you didn’t do something good enough. (You’ve got this whole adulting thing!) Changing your daily behavior (think: eating less junk, drinking more water, packing more lunches) is really hard. Like, really really hard. According to some estimates, at least 80 percent of resolutions fail.

So, to ring in 2017, we didn’t want to talk about resolutions. But we know that some people love to use the calendar change as a refresh button. That’s why, instead, we’re talking about building healthy habits. Doesn’t that just sound more fun — and more doable?

How Long Does It Take to Make a Healthy Habit?

Of course, this all begs the question: How long does it take to form or break a habit? A paper from the 1950s has been incorrectly interpreted over the years and boiled down to the idea that it takes 21 days.

In actuality, a 2009 study from the University College London followed 96 people over 12 weeks and found the average time it takes to stick to a new habit is 66 days. But the individual times varied from 18 to a whopping 254 days. That’s a big range!

The Healthy Habit Challenge

We have four writers who are each trying to start a new healthy habit this year. And because you’d be incredibly bored reading about their updates for 254 days (or even 66!), we gave them all a little over a month. Not the most scientific approach, but it’ll still be fun! They’ll each write an initial story, letting us know about their goals and how they plan to make it all happen. Then, next month, we’ll check in to see how it’s going.

You can follow along! And just in case you’re interested in starting your own healthy habit, we talked to some experts to get some great advice.

1. Be realistic.

We asked Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, about working toward a specific healthy habit: spending less money on food every week. We asked about setting a goal of shaving off $100 each week (we eat out way too much!) and she said to aim even lower.

“I wouldn’t start with $100, because that seems very hard to achieve. I would start with a smaller and achievable goal. If you make the goal too high, no matter how specific, you’ll only set yourself up for failure.”

Speaking of failure, Krauss Whitbourne says to count on failing — at least once in a while. “Just don’t let one instance of straying detract you from getting back on the path toward positive habit change.”

2. Publicly announce your intentions.

That’s what social media is for, right? Throw up a post on Instagram or mention your goal in a tweet. “Public commitments are generally more successful than private decisions,” says John C. Norcross, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and a board-certified clinical psychologist, who found that 46 percent of people in one of his studies were actually still pulling off their resolutions six months into the year!

You’ll likely get a few encouraging comments and you can use those to help gain confidence in yourself. (You can do this!) “Confidence is a potent predictor of who succeeds in the new year.”

3. Reward yourself.

“If you’re trying to get in the habit of bringing your lunch to work instead of eating out, put a small reward in that lunch — a healthy food you really like,” suggests Krauss Whitbourne. The more pleasant you make your lunch (or any other habit-in-training), the more likely you’ll be to stick to it.

Just remember: “Failing to establish a new habit doesn’t mean that you’re a failure,” says Krauss Whitbourne. “But it does mean that the rewards of sticking with the habit are outweighed by the rewards of sticking with the old behavior.” Keep looking until you find rewards that truly motivate you.

Do you have a healthy habit you’re hoping to build in 2017?