How to make new habits stick in 2020

Gretchen Rubin
Gretchen Rubin is best known for her work on The Happiness Project, but on Thursday she joined MPR News guest host Chris Farrell for a discussion on some of her other research, including how to build better habits in the new year.
Photo courtesy Sam Interrante

Only about 20 percent of Americans kept their New Year’s resolutions last year, and 63 percent said they didn’t even try to make a resolution in the first place, according to a YouGov poll.

What separates those who stick to their goals and those who falter?

Author Gretchen Rubin has a few ideas. While she’s best known for “The Happiness Project,” she has also written extensively about building habits in her books “The Four Tendencies” and “Better Than Before.”

Thursday on MPR News, Rubin joined guest host Chris Farrell for a conversation about best practices for making habits stick.

Know yourself

There isn’t one set of strategies that will work for every type of personality. Take some time to think about what motivates you and what you value most. In her book “Better Than Before,” Rubin writes:

“There’s no magic formula — not for ourselves, and not for the people around us. We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.”

Try pairing something you dread doing with something you love

If the highlight of the week is when your favorite podcast releases a new episode, and you’d rather let your laundry topple over than fold clothes, try pairing the two activities together. Your excitement about the new episode will help distract you from the monotony of sorting clothes.

Block out time in your schedule

If it’s in the schedule, it’s one less decision you have to make that day because you’ve already set aside the time. Let’s face it, you’re unlikely to exercise by accident or to suddenly have the urge to start back in on a project you’ve been putting off. However, if you’ve already built that time into your day, you’re more likely to follow through.


Rubin advises against the temptation to start tomorrow. “It’s fine to start small. We always suspect something will be easier to start tomorrow, next week, next month or in the new year … but without any logic as to why it will be easier. In truth, most things are easier when we just go ahead and start them.”

For more tips, use the audio player above to hear the full discussion.

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