How to Make a New Habit Stick

Don't let your resolutions get the best of you.

Workout with emojis
(Image credit: Getty Images / Katja Cho)

You know what's worse than setting a truly challenging New Year's resolution? Setting a truly challenging New Year's resolution and then *failing* and feeling worse about yourself than you even did to begin with. Whee. 

And though adhering to a new habit is hard, making a goal still feels like a good exercise in personal development, which is why everyone does it at least once a year (even Kylie Jenner). And so firmly in the middle of January with my NYE's hangover well behind me, I began to wonder if I could employ any habit-making hacks. Because yes, I like goals, but also I am lazy. Thankfully, Dr. Christopher Harte, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, took pity on the pathetic idea of hacking habits and provided three pieces of helpful advice. 

Instead of thinking, "I should spend less money on Seamless," think instead about how you really want to be able to afford a trip to Indonesia in August. "Setting goals because you think you 'should' or starting new habits simply to appease others will never last," Dr. Harte explains. He believes that tangible reminders can help remind you why the change is so important. So get a freakin' Indonesia calendar and tape it up in your cubicle–I bet you'll be more inclined to bring lunch a couple times a week. 

It's easy to get excited about a goal (I'm going to go to the gym every day starting tomorrow! I'll definitely be able to run that half-marathon in March!) but Dr. Harte says you don't need to start immediately–and in fact, a preparation phase can  improve the likelihood you'll succeed at your new habit. Dr. Harte suggests you (1) set a target date for when you start the new habit, (2) plan how often and how intensely you will practice the habit, and (3) consider all the obstacles that could get in the way of sustaining your new habit. So before you spend half a month's rent on all the organic veggies that Whole Foods has to offer because 2016 is definitely the year you become the best cook of all time, do a liiiittle (menu) planning. 

Start small. Don't set a crazy lofty goal (leave that to your annoying coworker so you can laugh at him later...oops, sorry, trying to be nicer in 2016) but instead, "start with a habit that is almost impossible to fail at." That way, you'll set yourself up for success, which will, in turn, reinforce the habit. Obviously this method is a test of patience and discipline–two things of which I am not fond–but if Dr. Harte thinks that running once around the track now increases my chances at making the 2018 Winter Olympics (ha...ha...) then I am willing to try. 

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Rosa Heyman
Rosa Heyman

As Cosmopolitan’s deputy editor, Rosa Heyman oversees a team of whip-smart editors and hilarious writers who bring you some of the best investigations on the internet, from dissecting the latest Kardashian drama to uncovering the link between white supremacy and misogyny. She currently manages the news and social teams and develops the strategy for how the brand best distributes content. You can usually find Rosa glued to her phone workshopping a cheeky caption for Cosmo’s Instagram account.