Small, incremental changes: how to keep your New Year's resolution

By Your Headspace Mindfulness & Meditation Experts

If you’re entering January with a New Year’s resolution in mind — whatever that goal might be — how best can you turn the promise you made to yourself into a long-term habit?

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In this article

  • Dream big, start small
  • Just add mindfulness
  • 10 days of Headspace
  • 30 days of Headspace

Starting something new isn’t often that difficult—we’re curious, we’re enthusiastic, and the novelty keeps us engaged. We tell ourselves that this time, this time, it’s going to be different. We are going to follow through. We will stick with it. We won’t quit. New year, new you, right? But that’s the thing about human nature: despite making the choice to change and having the best intentions, the resolve wanes, our commitment slips, and our stick-to-itiveness fades, whether it’s a new nutritional goal, a new fitness regime, a new hobby, or a New Year’s resolution — and this is particularly true with meditation. Training the mind takes time and patience if we are to transform the way we relate to our thoughts and emotions. Meditation is a skill that’s only honed with a little-and-often, slowly-but-surely, rinse-and-repeat approach. And therein lies the biggest obstacle — the mind we’re looking to train is the very thing that resists being tamed, creating resistance in the name of boredom, laziness, impatience, and restlessness, to name but a few excuses. Knowing how to do something new isn’t the problem. We understand how to sit, meditate, and breathe or how to run or lift a weight, and having enough skill is rarely the issue. Ultimately, we need to feel motivated, so having clarity about why we want to make a change means we have a better chance of following through.

"Research shows that combining the right motivation with a 30-second action and a “habit anchor” makes new routines more likely to stick."

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The right motivation is something tied to your personal values (“I want to meditate because when I feel less stressed, I’m more patient with my family”). A 30-second action is anything that might prompt you to start your new routine (“I will breathe mindfully for 30 seconds before meditating”). And a habit anchor is something you already do as part of an existing daily routine that you can attach that new action to (“I will do this after I brush my teeth”). Habit formation happens when we repeat an action consistently, in the same way and in the same context, day in and day out, because the mind starts to associate the action with a routine almost on autopilot. It’s these small, incremental changes that can make all the difference.

If you can fill in this sentence, you’re off to a great start:
After I _____________ (anchor), I will _____________ (30-second action), which will help me with my goal to _____________ because _____________ (motivation).

With all of this in mind, we’ve pulled together a collection of meditations to help you stick with any new routine in the new year - Small, Incremental Changes: The Headspace Way.

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Dream big, start small

Mini meditations: Who wouldn’t like to go into the new year feeling sharper and clearer? These bite-sized meditations are the perfect way to ease into your meditation practice.

A quick exercise to train in focus

Time to wash away any lingering tension with a classic visualization

Just add mindfulness

Single meditation exercises: As we make the intention to be more mindful, these single meditations are a great way to train the mind to be more present during everyday life.

Stay mindful by not allowing digital devices to steal your attention

Use this single exercise to stay present while eating whether alone or with others


10 days of Headspace

10-day courses: There’s a lot competing for our attention these days so we all need some spaciousness of mind to make room for clarity — and feel good feelings to help keep us on track.

Polish the lens and get some clarity on what really matters to you

Develop a more playful attitude to life, and make meditation fun!

30 days of Headspace

30-day courses: As you train in awareness, you can use these 30-day courses to take your meditation practice a little bit deeper with more focus and more calm.

Familiarize yourself with a soft but gentle focus that anchors you to the present

The calmer our minds, the more restful our sleep, the better we feel

Turning a new activity into a habit requires dedication, but sometimes, we slip up. That’s when it’s important to be kind to ourselves and remember why we set our new goal in the first place. It’s also worth noting that researchers at Harvard found that “automaticity” kicks in with a new behavior, on average, after about 66 days. So be patient, stick with it, and use that time wisely!

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