Hey, how are those New Year’s resolutions going? If you’ve lost momentum, you’re not alone. According to a survey by Statista, only 22% of respondents said they kept some of their New Year’s resolutions after about a month. We all struggle to stick with healthy habits, but behavior and neuroscience researchers have recently discovered some surprising ways to make it easier. Here are our top five tools to help you and your teen think smarter, stay motivated and build healthy habits that last:


1. Befriend your brain. 

To turn an action into a habit, the brain needs repetition and reward. Repetition means doing an action enough times that it’s easily done without thinking, like brushing your teeth. But to really make a new habit take hold, we need to feel a sense of satisfaction, too. When we expect something good to happen, the brain releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical that makes us want more. That’s why rewarding ourselves – even with something as simple as a fist bump or five-minute break – helps us lock in healthy new habits. Make it easy to repeat your new habit and be sure to reward yourself each time. Your brain will associate the new behavior with feelings of satisfaction, motivating you to keep up the good work.


2. Start small. 

“Creating tiny positive habits is the path to developing much bigger ones,” says Stanford behavior scientist B.J. Fogg. “…If you want to create long-term change, start small.” We often don’t stick to healthy habits simply because we take on too much. Fogg suggests starting with actions so small they might seem insignificant at first, like 30 seconds of a new activity. That helps you quickly wire the new habit into your brain. “The more stressed you are and the less time you have, the more appropriate this method is for you,” Fogg says. Make your new habit bite-sized and let it grow from there.


3. Stay motivated by loving yourself. 

If feeling good motivates us to stay with a healthy habit, it makes sense that feeling bad has the opposite effect. Writer Carina Wolff says, “As part of cultivating a healthy mind and body, we need to start… participating in habits that encourage self-love.” What do self-love habits look like? You can find lots of ideas in Lucero, a gamified wellness app for tweens, teens and their Crew (that means you!) It’s like a daily vitamin for self-care habits like mindfulness, positive self-talk and connecting with yourself and others. Loving yourself makes you happier and inspires you to go for your goals.


4. Design systems for success. 

In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear says we can set ourselves up for success by designing systems that support our goals. “Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results,” says Clear. If your goal is to exercise daily, how can you make it easier and more fun to get your workout in? Keep your gym bag in the car. Download an upbeat playlist. Invite friends and family members to join you for hikes or pickleball. Think about how you will deal with setbacks, too: What are your backup plans and motivators for down days? How will you handle competing commitments? Simplify success by planning in advance.


5. Know your ABCs. B.J. Fogg provides a simple recipe for successful habits: Anchor–Behavior–Celebration. An anchor is an existing routine that serves as a reminder for the behavior (your new habit):

Celebration is any action that gives you a sense of completion and satisfaction, like giving yourself a pat on the back or saying, “I’m awesome!” Fogg’s formula is all about making new habits sustainable, so our brains get better at adapting to change. And science says that’s the best way to build healthy habits: one tiny step at a time.

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