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Lumosity Blog
Jan 26, 2021

A positive mindset + planning for failure = resolution success

A positive mindset + planning for failure = resolution success

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2021? Since our User Experience (UX) team’s job is to make Lumosity engaging, we’re looking back to an interview from 2017 with then UX Director Abhishek Gupta as well as summarizing some new insights into why people stick with some resolutions and not others.

In his graduate work at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Abhi researched how to design positive habit-forming experiences. Insights from Charles Duhigg, B.J. Fogg and Nir Eyal in particular helped him to design features that encourage ongoing engagement.

Whatever your New Year’s resolutions are —Lumosity-related or not—read on for our best tips on how to make this the year you stick with them.

It’s hard to stick to resolutions over a long period, but it’s better than not making them at all. Only about 8% of people achieve their resolutions, and less than half of those maintain resolutions for more than six-months. Still, people who explicitly make resolutions are 10x more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t make them.

To successfully follow through with resolutions and maintain new habits, it’s important to put emphasis on the way you start. Here are a few tips:

Start with a resolution setting exercise

Begin by defining your resolutions and planning ahead. Block an hour one morning on your calendar near the beginning of a new year, and use this time to determine your resolutions. Write them down—and avoid distractions by using a notebook and pen.

The Pre-Mortem Exercise

The practice of conducting pre-mortems was invented by psychologist Gary Klein and popularized by Daniel Kahneman. Pre-mortem exercises are catching on in the business world to help mitigate the risk of failure, too. Here’s how they work: think ahead and imagine that you have failed to stick with your resolutions, and ask yourself why. Then, write down the list of potential pitfalls. Generating a list of plausible reasons for your potential failure will help you be mindful of what might hinder you down the road.

The Fail-safes Exercise

As a next step, come up with solutions for those reasons for potential failures. For example, if you’ll crave sweets, stock up on diet sodas to have instead. To keep a new habit, it’s important to create fail-safes for two types of inevitable roadblocks: short-term procrastination and long-term habit maintenance (see the examples below).

The Fine-tuning Exercise

Next, fine-tune your resolution based on the solutions for your failure scenarios. For instance, if you decide to cut out sweets but know that you crave them when you’re upset, tweak the resolution to allow for 1 or 2 sweets per week. Make your resolution specific and easily measurable on an ongoing basis. Barring major unforeseen life events, the pre-mortem exercise and the designed fail-safes will help you see your resolution through to the end.

Short-term procrastination scenario:

Let’s say your resolution is to practice playing violin more often. In your pre-mortem, you realize that you could fail because you are usually too tired after work to even pick up the violin. For this scenario, you could design a fail-safe that forces you to pick it up without thinking: you could place the violin on the chair you sit in. This could stop you from procrastinating as you have to pick up the violin before you sit down. You can now fine-tune your resolution to be more specific: practice the violin for 2 minutes each time you sit in your chair after work.

Throughout this process, don’t forget to focus on the positive. As a recent article in The Atlantic notes, “practicing self-liberation (that is, strengthening willpower by reinforcing the belief that one can change); rewarding oneself for ongoing success; avoiding situations of temptation; and engaging in positive thinking (envisioning success)” are all associated with resolution completion. Resolutions are sabotaged by negativity, even when it might seem useful. For example, “focusing on the harm from the old behavior; berating oneself for slipping up; wishing that the challenge didn’t exist in the first place; and minimizing the threat (denying the importance of the resolution)” are all likely to torpedo your efforts.

Long-term habit maintenance scenario:

Let’s say your resolution is to go to sleep on time each day. In your pre-mortem, you anticipate failure because you like to watch TV shows that encourage bingeing. For this scenario, you can set an alarm for when to start watching (say, 8pm) and another for when you’ll stop, no matter where in an episode you are. Then, you can reward yourself with a cup of tea or a face mask that will help you transition to bedtime. Be sure to fine-tune your resolution to be specific and measurable—ie. “Go to sleep by 10:00 PM at least 6 days a week.”

Another framework that can help you keep your resolutions overlaps with the strategies above and is easy to remember: the Cue-Routine-Reward Loop (we like to think of it as the CRRL or “curl”).

A Cue is a trigger that reminds you to do the action you intend to perform. A strategy called Habit Chaining can be helpful here, whereby you link your new resolution with something you’re already in the habit of doing. Identify an existing habit and then place a Cue that you’d likely notice in the path of performing an existing habit (e.g., place your violin—the cue—in the comfy chair you tend to sit in after work).

A Routine is the action you intend to perform repeatedly. A strategy called Tiny Habits can be helpful. A tiny habit is the smallest action you can do that still feels meaningful (e.g. playing the violin for just 2 minutes). Do something tiny, consistently—it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get into the habit, but the power of inertia can get you to maintain that habit longer. This can help you accrue benefits over time.

A Reward is something that provides you with gratification for sticking with your habit. A strategy called Withholding can help. Hold back something you desire and have it become a reward for following through with your resolution (e.g., no dessert until you practice the violin). Replace your reward periodically with something new to sustain your habit for the long-term.

The cue-routine-reward loop will make it easier for you to sustain new habits, but be sure to supplement it with bigger rewards when you reach key milestones. As you go, check in on your progress regularly, adjust your strategy as necessary, and ensure that these habits are moving you closer to your goals.

Here are a few features we’ve developed over the years that are intended to help members make Lumosity a habit:

  • First, we created Training Reminders—emails sent at their frequency of choice to anyone who opts into them under their Account Settings. These act as a “cue.”
  • At the end of 2016, we released Workout Modes which offer people different styles of training, like Favorites mode and Strengthen mode.
  • In 2017 we released “Insights” where users unlock analyses of their gameplay trends and patterns after a certain amount of training. Insights can help people set goals based on their past performance.
  • Finally, we offered the bragging rights associated with Streaks, which act as a daily form of applause to help people stay on track with their training.

Have any of these contributed to your Lumosity habit formation?

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