The new approach to New Year resolutions

New Year, new beginnings 2014 series: We all struggle with making the big changes in our lives, but new research shows that there is an easier way to make those improvements.

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The new approach to New Year resolutions

The key to change

The key to change – and why it can be difficult to achieve – is the nature of habit-forming. Dr Ben Gardner, lecturer in health psychology at UCL, defines a habit as something we do repeatedly, persistently and often find difficult not to do. ‘People need to understand that their habits are not as deliberate as they think’, he says. ‘There are many factors at play when we are trying to break old habits and create new ones. It is no wonder people can find it so difficult.’

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit (Random House Books, £8.99) says that habits become entrenched as loops. ‘First there is a cue – a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use,’ he explains. ‘Then there is a routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional, for example, reaching for a cigarette. Finally there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop –cue, routine, reward – becomes more and more automatic.’

Next page: Identifying our set backs