How to Make a Good New Year's Resolution

How many New Year's resolutions have you made in your life? 20? 30? How many have you successfully accomplished? Probably less than 10% if you are human (I know, there are machines reading this post). There is no shortage advice out there on how to stick to your resolution this time 'round, so I will keep mine short and sweet. Use science.

There are two primary lines of brain and behavior science that influence New Year's resolutions: The science of habits and the science of self-stories.

Let's start with the science of habits.

A lot of New Year's resolutions have to do with changing or eliminating old, bad habits and creating new, better ones. If your resolutions are like most and involve vows to eat healthier, exercise more, drink less, quit smoking, text less, less screen time or any number of other automatic, recurring behaviors or actions, then we are talking about changing existing habits or making new habits. Habits are automatic, or conditioned responses. You get up in the morning, put on your clothes, drink some coffee and go to work. You go home at the end of the work day and plop down in front of the TV.  Here's what you need to know about the science of changing existing habits or making new ones:

Contrary to common belief, it's not hard to change habits if you use science as a tool.

To change an existing habit you essentially have to create a new one, so whether you are changing an existing habit or creating a new one, the "scientific" method for doing so is the same.

You have already created so many habits you don't even remember how they got started, so creating habits obviously isn't that hard or you wouldn't have been able to create so many of them.To create a new habit you have to follow these three steps:

Pick a small action or task. "Get more exercise" is not small. "Eat healthier" is not small. This is a main reason why New Year's resolutions don't work. People forget about the idea o baby steps and try to go too big. Think small. For example, instead of "Get more exercise" choose "Walk 2 miles today instead of 1" or "Take the stairs every morning not the elevator", or "Have a smoothie in the morning, not a bagel". These are relatively small small tasks.

Attach a new action to a previous habit. Figure out a habit you already have that is well established, for example, if you already go for a brisk walk 3 times a week, then adding on 10 more minutes to the existing walk connects the new habit to an existing one. The existing habit "Go for walk" now becomes the "cue" for the new habit: "Walk 10 more minutes." Your new "stimulus-response" is Go For Walk (Stimulus) followed by "Add 1/2 mile." Your existing habit of "walk through door at office" can now become the "cue" or stimulus for the new habit of "walk up a flight of stairs." Your existing habit of "Walk into the kitchen in the morning" can now be the stimulus for the new habit of "Make a smoothie."

Make the new action easy to do for at least the first week. Give yourself a chance. Because you are trying to establish a conditioned response, you need to practice the new habit from the existing stimulus from 3 to 7 times before it will "stick" on its own. To help you through this 3 to 7 times phase make it as easy as possible. Set a reminder in your phone that says "Walk 2 miles today". Set another reminder that says "Use the stairs today." Make sure you have ingredients for your breakfast smoothie ready to go in the fridge.

If you take these three steps and you practice them 3 to 7 days in a row your new habit will be established.

Now for the Science of self-routine.

The best (and some would say the only) way to get a large and long-term behavior change, is by changing your self-routine.

Everyone has stories about themselves that drive their behavior. You have an idea of who you are and what’s important to you. Essentially you have a "routine" operating about yourself at all times. These self-routines have a powerful influence on decisions and actions.

Whether you realize it or not, you make decisions based on staying true to your self-routines. Most of this decision-making and choice-making based on self-routines happens unconsciously. You strive to be consistent. You want to make decisions and choices that match your idea of who you are. When you make a decision or act in a way that fits your self-story, the decision or action will feel right. When you make a choice or act in a way that doesn’t fit your self-story you feel uncomfortable.

If you want to change your behavior and make the change stick, then you need to first change the underlying self-story that is operating. Do you want to be more optimistic? Then you'd better have an operating self-story that says you are an optimistic person. Want to join your local community band? Then you'll need a self-story where you are outgoing and musical.

Here is how routines editing can change behavior long-term:

  1. Write out your existing routine. Pay special attention to anything about the routine that goes against the new resolution you want to adopt. So if your goal is to learn how to be less stressed, then write out a story that is realistic, that shows that it's hard for you to de-stress, that  you tend to get overly involved in dramas at home or at work.
  2. Now rewrite the routine with a new narrative-- create a new self-routine. Describe the routine of the new way of being. Tell the story or routine of the person who appreciates life, and takes time to take care of him/her-self.

Routine-editing is so simple that it doesn’t seem possible that it can result in such deep and profound change. But research shows that one re-written self-routine can make all the difference.

I've tried both of these techniques -- creating new habits using the 3-step method, and creating a new self-routine -- and they work. The research shows they work, and my own experience shows they work. Give it a try. What have you got to lose? This year use science to create and stick to your New Year's resolutions.





Four Things to Avoid During the Eclipse

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few months, there is a once in a lifetime event happening this coming Monday August 21th. For the first time since 1979, the moon will pass directly between the sun and the Earth and cast a shadow on the Earth. And, if you happen to be in the ‘path of totality’, you will enjoy 3 minutes or so of complete darkness. So, just to put this into perspective, the last time this happened Willie Stargell’s Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series and turn sports onto ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, it snowed in the Sahara Desert, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran after 15 year in exile, and 63 Americans were taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran. So, this is a big deal for a lot of people.

The Eclipse has stoked plenty of excitement and generated its own economy (yes, people selling eclipse glasses on Ebay for $900), but my guess is that once it is over, we’ll all be depressed and hungover and scared to face the next day. Trump will still be President after all. Crazy and rare naturally occurring events are a thing of wonder and beauty, so it’s okay to get over excited and trek out to Oregon or Idaho to get yourself into the path, but please heed this list of ‘Don’ts’ about watch the Eclipse. The Nasa website is also a good resource.

Don’t Miss Work to See the Eclipse

There will plenty of picture and videos available on the news or on social media for you to review, so don’t jeopardize your livelihood for the Eclipse.

Don’t Try to Profit Off it

Selling bogus Eclipse glasses or renting your house online by misrepresenting how close it is to the path are dishonest, morally corrupt, and really bad karma. Fraudsters are not making real contributions to the general good and this is why the world is in such a bad spot right now.

Don’t Take Pictures of It

This is a magical event and you spirit will be moved if you just keep your phone in your pocket and enjoy one of coolest events a human can witness. Let the pros take the photos and you can look at the online later, but during the Eclipse remember to be in the moment. You will get much more from it if you just relax an take it in.

Don’t Stare Too Long

Obviously, make sure the glasses you’re wearing are the real ones, and even then take care to look away every few seconds and give your eyes a rest. Even if you are wearing protective glasses you can damage your eyes so be careful, you're going to need your eye site long after the Eclipse is over.

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5 Festive Holiday Grogs

In this blustery weather, there’s nothing better than some warm holiday grogs to kick off the cheer of the season. With or without alcohol, the following holiday drink recipes can add some flair to your festivities. Enjoy the aroma of mulled cider, sip a rich cup of Mexican hot chocolate after a snowy walk, or serve a ginger-infused eggnog or espresso almond latte while wrapping presents. Whatever the occasion, you’ll love these delicious holiday drinks.

Ginger-infused Eggnog

Serves 4 to 6

1 quart good-quality eggnog

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup ginger syrup, or to taste

4 ounces light rum, optional

2 tablespoons chopped, candied ginger

Grated nutmeg

Combine the eggnog, cinnamon, ginger syrup and rum in a large pitcher. Stir well and chill for at last 2 hours. Pour into 4 to 6 mugs and top with a sprinkling of candied ginger and grated nutmeg.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Serves 8

4 cups whole milk

Four 12-ounce cans evaporated milk

8 ounces chopped Mexican chocolate (or other good-quality bittersweet chocolate)

1/4 teaspoon ancho or chipotle chili powder, or to taste

2 cinnamon sticks

1 vanilla bean, split down the middle (or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)

4 ounces tequila, optional

Whipped cream

Cocoa powder

In a large heavy-duty saucepan, combine the whole and evaporated milk, chocolate, chili powder, cinnamon and vanilla bean over moderate heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until chocolate is completely melted and the drink has a creamy consistency. Remove from heat; allow cinnamon and vanilla to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the sticks and pod before serving. Stir in the liqueur, if using, and top each portion with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder.

Spiced Citrus Apple Cider

Serves 8 to 10

2 quarts apple cider

2 cinnamon sticks, plus additional as garnish

3 whole cloves

2 allspice berries

1 orange, cut into thin slices.

Juice of half fresh lemon

8 ounces apple brandy, optional

Combine ingredients in a large pot over moderate heat. Allow to simmer 10 minutes to develop flavors. Strain and serve each portion with an ounce of apple brandy and cinnamon stick.

Santa’s Kiss

Champagne or sparkling wine

Fresh pomegranate juice

Fill each champagne flute three-quarters full. Add a splash of pomegranate juice to taste.

Espresso Amaretto Latte

Serves 8

8 to 16 shots good-quality espresso coffee

2 cups half-and-half, warmed

1/2 cup almond-flavored liqueur, optional

Whipped cream and shaved semi-sweet chocolate, optional

Combine coffee with warmed half-and-half and liqueur (if using). Garnish with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

Biggest Pet Peeves -- and How to Fix Them

Your pets are part of the family. And, like any child, your dog or cat can annoy you at times. Chances are at least a few of the following pet behavioral problems will sound familiar. To help curb your biggest pet peeves, consider a few expert solutions to their bad behavior.

Pet Peeve No. 1: Your cat scratches up the furniture
Your kitty isn’t trying to annoy you: Scratching is a natural behavior. It helps your cat mark its territory, remove the outer layer of its claws,and exercise. So instead of scolding or punishing your cat, try to modify its behavior by offering it a scratching post. Take note of what your cat tends to scratch -- fabric, wood, rope or cardboard -- and purchase one with a similar material and place it near the original object. You can also discourage your cat from scratching certain things by covering them in aluminum foil or double-sided tape.

Pet Peeve No. 2: Your pup barks all the time
When Fido gets going, avoid the temptation to yell at him -- he’ll think that you’re joining in. Instead, take him away from the barking trigger: For instance, if he’s barking at the squirrels outside, the Humane Society of the United States recommends closing the blinds or putting him in another room. Also, attempt to ignore the woofs: Paying him attention while he’s barking rewards the behavior. You can also teach him a “quiet” command in a peaceful setting, and then gradually practice in distracting situations. Eventually, he’ll respond even when the mailman walks by or the doorbell rings.

Pet Peeve No. 3: Your kitty wakes you up in the middle of the night
After a long day, the last thing you want to do is wake up throughout the night to your cat’s meowing or playing. But Fluffy is wired to hunt on a 24-hour cycle, with her most active periods at dawn and dusk. This means the best solution is to shut her out of your bedroom at night. Can’t imagine snoozing without her by your side? Cats generally want to get fed in the early morning, so you may want to invest in a timed feeder. Also do your best to ignore her nudges or meows in the morning; even calling out her name or pushing her off the bed counts as attention. Once she realizes that her behavior won’t garner a reaction, she’ll stop.

Pet Peeve No. 4: Your dog won’t stop begging
Feeding your pup at the table isn’t just annoying: It can also lead to obesity. Slipping your dog food just a few times can create a pattern of begging, so the best way to break the cycle is to ignore Rover completely. Avoid eye contact and don’t speak to him (even if it’s telling him to stop). Make sure everyone in your family is on the same page and stands firm, so that your dog is not confused by inconsistent behavior. You can also ease the whining by feeding Rover during your own mealtime, or distracting him with a few toys.

Pet Peeve No. 5: Your dog jumps up on people
It’s nice to receive a warm welcome, but Rover’s forceful hello (and muddy paw prints on your clothes) needs to stop. According to the American Humane Society, dogs greet each other nose-to-nose, so his leaps are an attempt to do the same. To prevent this from occurring -- and him from scaring visitors -- you’ll need to train him.

When you come home, enter calmly instead of clapping your hands and yelling his name. If he leaps on you, turn around and go outside. Repeat until he stops jumping -- this teaches him he’ll only receive attention when all of his feet are on the floor. For visitors, instruct your pup to sit as someone approaches. If he leaps, have that person walk away, and repeat until he’s able to stay seated. Then have the visitor reward him with a treat.

Stress-relieving Gifts for $10 or Less

This holiday season, consider giving the gift of stress reduction. Not only are the following items proven to be stress relieving, but they’re also affordable -- they’re all $10 or less. So go ahead: Pick up one for yourself, too!

Lavender Oil: This calming scent can help you unwind and sleep better. Try whiffing the cap of this Aura Cacia Pure Essential Oil ($9.99;, or add a few drops to a bedroom diffuser.

Tea: According to a British study, people who sipped tea had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a stressful event than those who didn’t. A unique tea blend makes for a special gift. Our pick is a rooibos red tea blend from South Africa: Good Hope Vanilla Red Tea Bags ($10;

Epsom Salts: Relax tight, aching muscles by adding these magnesium-rich salts to your bath. Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salt Soaking Solution has a calming lavender scent ($4.99;

Chocolate: This delicious treat triggers the brain to release endorphins, which are feel-good brain chemicals. Opt for dark chocolate, which is lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants, like See’s Candies Premium Extra Dark Chocolate Bar Gift Pack ($9;

Candle: Fill your home with a soothing scent, such as Febreze Meadows & Rain candle ($7.59;

Hand Cream: An ultra-luxe lotion can fend off chapped nails. Stash a portable tube, like the Body Shop’s Mini Almond Hand & Nail Cream ($6;, in your purse to have at all times. While you’re rubbing it in, give your hands a little massage as a stress-relieving break in your day.

Music: Put on some classical tunes for instant relaxation. Mozart for Meditation ($4.99; compiles some of the composer’s most serene songs.