New Year’s is an exciting time. Amidst a break from school, everyone stays up late and enjoys brilliant fireworks.

New Year’s is also the turning of a page. It’s a chance to start anew. And so, as the New Year begins, we make resolutions. ‘I’m going to lose weight,’ we say. ‘I’m going to read more books.’

For a week or two, we may do quite well. We’ll avoid doughnuts and pick up some books. Each time, we lean on our willpower to hold back. But, eventually, willpower gives out. A sweet looks too tempting, or we’re simply too tired to read.

This is the point where many New Year’s resolutions end. We’ve broken the streak, and starting again seems incredibly difficult. We tried, but we fell short. And we’ll try again next year, only to repeat the failing cycle.

There’s an alternative to resolutions, however. One that’s much more effective. You may have heard of them. The alternative is called habits.

Habits are the patterns we fall into subconsciously. They’re automatic, so we rarely think of them. But our habits make up most of our daily life.

Want to see a habit really quickly?

Cross your arms. Now uncross them. And cross them the other way, switching which arm is on top.

Feel the difference? The second iteration feels foreign and uncomfortable. That’s because you’re actively working against the habit.

Now, which way you cross your arms won’t really affect your life. It’s not worth striving to change. But consider a different habit. What do you do when you’re bored?

Personally, I have a tendency to turn on the TV or scroll through Instagram. It’s completely automatic. I don’t even realize I was feeling bored until I was watching or scrolling. It’s a habit—maybe one you’ll resonate with, too.

Now imagine how different our lives would look if we changed that habit. What if, instead of watching TV, we read a book. Or, instead of scrolling through Instagram, we engaged with a friend or family member. Our lives would look remarkably different, right?

But here comes the hard part. How do we actually make that change? Isn’t that what we’ve already tried with our resolutions? We saw a result we didn’t like and tried to change it, but we failed.

Habits are a little different. Resolutions are all about the result. Habits are about the process. With a resolution, the lack of immediate results becomes demoralizing. With habits, we aren’t expecting immediate results, so we enjoy the incremental change.

And the way we develop that change is relatively simple. We set our mental filters to focus on one habit at a time.

There’s a framework I’ve found particularly helpful in changing habits. It is as follows:

When [situation, emotion, etc.], instead of [current habit], I will [30-second action step for new habit].

So, looking back at our resolutions, some examples may look like this:

  1. When I’m craving something sweet, instead of opening the pantry, I will do one jumping jack.
  2. When I’m bored, instead of turning on the TV, I will read one sentence of a book.
  3. When I’m feeling lazy, instead of opening Instagram, I will ask my mom how her day has been.

By taking recognizing the trigger, defining the habit, and taking a small step towards the new activity, you begin changing your habit.

See the power of the framework? If so, try it yourself. Comment your own habit-changing sentence below!

P.S. If you’re looking to continue changing habits, James Clear’s Atomic Habits is considered one of the best for helping you do so. You might gift it to yourself with some extra money you have from the holidays. Changing your habits is the best way to change your life. And, if you purchase it through the link, I’ll receive a small kickback, which helps me keep running Smart Start University and writing blog posts like these. Let me know if you choose to buy it. Happy reading!