For most of us, a resolution worthy enough to save for the New Year is usually one that is important to us. Whether it’s being healthier, reaching financial goals or spending more time with loved ones, we make our New Year’s resolutions in pursuit of the greatest reward: a happier, more fulfilled life.
This year, my New Year’s resolution is to go to the gym 5 days a week. But it’s the same resolution I’ve created almost every year. And yet, each year, I find myself failing at my resolution just weeks into the New Year.
Research shows that I’m not the only one: only 9 percent of Americans that set resolutions report succeeding in accomplishing them. But why can’t any of us stick to our resolutions?
Our habits get in the way of our decisions.
A Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 to 45 percent of our daily decisions are actually not decisions at all–they’re habits.
That means nearly half of our days are spent in auto-pilot, following a script that we’ve unconsciously already written. We’ve all been a slave to our habits before: like when you snap out of a daze and realize you’ve driven all the way home without remembering how you got there.
New Year’s resolutions are similar in that regard: no matter how much I want to go to the gym, I somehow always end up sleeping in or watching Netflix or instead.
But that doesn’t mean that habits are our destiny.
This year will be different: as the founder and principal of the design firm MSTQ, I’ve decided I’m going to use the cognitive frameworks that I apply in my UX practice to help me get to the gym.
Applying what I’ve learned from behavioral scientists such as B.J. Fogg, Daniel Kahneman and Charles Duhigg, I’ve found that by simply breaking habits down into their chain of actions, I can identify and target key moments to rewire behavioral tendencies–for my users and hopefully for myself.
The Cue-Routine-Reward loop is a great framework to help understand the micro-moments that motivate me to go to the gym; moments that I can take advantage of to make me more successful with my resolution.
A Cue is the trigger that reminds you of a possible behavior; the initiation of a chain of actions that are unconsciously linked together.
A Routine is the chain of actions that are repeatedly performed following the cue.
A Reward is something that provides you with gratification for completing the routine.
Hacking the Cue-Routine-Reward loop makes it easier to form and sustain new habits.
This pattern framework applies to any habit. The secret, however, to hacking the Cue-Routine-Reward pattern is identifying the cue and the reward within the chain of actions.
Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, explains how I can hack the micro-moments to get to the gym more:
Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you’ll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually that craving will make it easier to push through the gym doors every day. . . .Only when your brain starts expecting the reward–craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment–will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.
Make it a New Year’s habit, not a resolution.
Like a great user experience, a successful New Year’s resolution requires a compassionate curiosity to the real (but nuanced) forces that motivate our behavior. Experimenting with the the micro-moments that influence us throughout our day is key to building healthy habits.
This year, design your New Year’s resolution using the Cue-Routine-Reward loop to help you stick to it. Happy New Year and good luck!