By Elise Tresley
I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I stopped doing them years ago. Resolutions aren’t conducive to how our brains actually function. Most are too vague or require too many behavioral changes at once. It’s not surprising that the failure rate is above 80%. Before you nix your resolutions for 2020, there’s good news. We have a much higher success rate if we focus on one small habit at a time (yes, just one). And I’ve found a framework that’ll increase your chance of success by 95%.
HABITS > RESOLUTIONS
A study out of Duke University found that more than 40% of our daily actions aren’t actual decisions, but small, subconscious habits that can either help or hurt our goals (or in this case, “our resolutions”). Habits are the brain’s internal drivers — it’s been scientifically proven that minor changes in these patterns can reprogram our brain. When we change the small habits, we change the end game.
One of my favorite books, The Power of Habit by New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, explains the Habit Loop. The Habit Loop is the neurological loop that governs any habit and consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue is the trigger that tells your brain what habit to implement. The routine is the physical or mental reaction to the cue. The reward tells your brain whether the action is worth repeating. The Habit Loop has changed how I approach everything — including how and what I eat.
CUE THE ROUTINE: BREAKFAST TIME
One of the top New Year's resolutions for 2020 is “to eat healthier.“ While I passionately believe that better eating can drastically improve our lives, the problem with this resolution is that it’s vague. To make matters worse, the next step is oftentimes to jump into a diet or a weird detox. Similar to New Year’s resolutions, dieting doesn’t work. There’s too many behaviors to change at once, making it impossible to follow the Habit Loop. Instead, identify unhealthy eating habits and replace them — one at a time.
A smart place to start is breakfast. We’re usually rushed and on autopilot in the morning, which can lead to subconscious choices. The cue for breakfast could be after you brush your teeth, take a shower, or even right when you wake up. Once you identify the cue, replace the routine. For example, my breakfast routine used to be one of the following: grab a sugar-loaded yogurt parfait from Starbucks (+14g of added sugar, ouch!), reach for a carb-heavy bagel with blueberry cream cheese, or skip breakfast altogether. I felt terrible — low energy, lack of focus, and hungry well before lunch.
The change that made a major impact in my life was having mēle for breakfast. While I’m admittedly plugging our product, here's what's important: it works. Before we created mēle, we couldn’t find any convenient breakfast options that tasted delicious, kept us full, and didn’t contain junk. mēle is made of real fruits, veggies, nuts, & protein — no preservatives, no added sugar, and no soy. Plus, I can make it anywhere in 15 seconds. I keep mēle packets in my pantry, my purse, and my desk drawer. I haven’t skipped breakfast or reached for a bagel in over a year. Whether mēle becomes your new routine or not, the point is to find at least 1-2 breakfast options that are healthy, balanced, and repeatable.
REWARD: FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Once the cue and new routine are identified, setup a reward. This part of The Habit Loop is as critical as the first two components. The best strategy that I’ve found for the reward: an accountability partner. The American Society of Training and Development found that we have a 95% chance of successfully forming a new habit if we commit to someone and check-in regularly.
Once you and your friend agree on the routine, it can be as simple as a daily text (think a quick photo of breakfast sent each morning followed by a reply with words of encouragement) or a weekly calendar reminder every Friday to update each other on progress. My co-founder, Lauren, is my accountability partner. We’ve both found that we need a motivator (or a reward) even with simple changes. And adopting better habits is more fun with a friend. My go-to mēle flavors are rawberry and supergreen, and Lauren’s favorite is cocoa-nut.
A RECAP FOR REPROGRAMMING YOUR BREAKFAST ROUTINE
- Identify the cue. When/where are you currently eating breakfast? After you brush your teeth? After you arrive at work? I’m hungry right away in the morning, so I identified “morning shower” as my cue.
- Replace the routine. What are a couple healthy, filling breakfast options? I’m not into meal prepping and don’t have time to blend a smoothie every morning, so in my case, it’s mēle. Whatever you choose, keep it simple and realistic.
- Find a friend and establish a reward system. Who in your life is motivated to reach a similar goal? When it comes to healthy eating, my partner-in-crime is Lauren.
- Check-in regularly. What is the easiest way for you and your friend to check-in? I’ve found a quick photo in a text each morning does the trick. BONUS: if you send us a photo of mēle as your morning routine, we’ll post it on our social media and tag you (DM or email us!).
- Regroup after 30 days. How would you assess your habit formation? If the habit is formed, pick your next one to tackle. If not, repeat the steps above.
I’ve used this same framework to drink more water each day, eat more veggies, and cut down on caffeine. Habits emerge without us even realizing it—and with everything we’re learning about gut health and the effects of food on our body and mind, better eating should be the top lifestyle change of 2020. But, instead of setting a bunch of lofty New Year's resolutions, increase your chances of success with one small habit to start — and do it with a friend!
*U.S. News & World Report: 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.