Have you kept your New Year’s Resolutions? According to the U.S. News and World Report, 80% of resolutions fail by February, most by January 12th. Really.

Year after year, I resolved to start my day with a series of morning stretches and exercises. Year after year, I did them for a few weeks before I let the smell of morning coffee entice me straight to the kitchen.

From there I’d get distracted and involved in my day’s activities. Yet another healthy habit strewn to the wayside.

Forming Habits

I was once told that if I did something 21 times in a row, it would become habit. Apparently not. I know I got to 21 days of morning exercises at least a few years, but it still didn’t stick.

In fact, recent research by the University College London indicates that it takes an average of 66 times before a behavior becomes habit. For some in their study it took as long as 254 days. Scary.

As an educator, I’ve often used behavior modification to alter student behavior, so I thought, “Why not try it on myself?” I used candy rewards in class (I know it’s unhealthy, but don’t knock something that works).

I’m not that interested in candy, and I certainly don’t need the extra calories, but I realized that the coffee pulling me away from my morning stretches might just be the thing I needed as a carrot for completing them – a reward!

Four years ago, I decided to set coffee as my reward – NO coffee until I’d spent at least 10 minutes doing sit-ups, stretches, and planks. And you know what? It’s worked! I’ve probably missed about five days in the past four years, and those with a good reason (that I can no longer recall).

In order to achieve your goals, you need to identify specific, measureable behaviors that can be rewarded. Instead of just “losing weight,” how about a reward for each pound lost? Or a reward for a day of avoiding sweets?

Consider Short-Term Rewards: Little Things for Small Achievements

I love the immediate gratification of a daily cup of java, but what about you? What could you offer yourself as a reward for a behavior you’ve wanted to begin?

  • After a daily walk, how about a half hour of uninterrupted reading?
  • For a good morning face wash, give yourself a splash of your favorite perfume.
  • For avoiding sweets all day, indulge in a glass of wine before dinner.
  • For a day without complaining (even once), reward yourself with a phone call to an old friend.
  • For making your five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, how about a small dish of ice cream?
  • For saving another ten dollars, treat yourself to a movie.
  • For paying your bills, indulge in a Netflix marathon.
  • For pleasing an older relative with a phone call, take time for a manicure.
  • For each trip to the gym, reward yourself with a smoothie.
  • For limiting yourself to one drink in the evening, indulge in a half hour of video solitaire.

Set a Long-Term Reward for Yourself: Something Big

For larger goals, you might create a chart to measure progress toward that goal or use smaller rewards along the way – but keep that big reward in sight.

  • For losing that first 10 pounds, treat yourself to a shopping spree for a new outfit.
  • For avoiding cigarettes for a month, treat yourself (and a friend) to a play or concert.
  • For walking a mile every day for a month, buy yourself a new pair of walking shoes.
  • For saving $50 a week for a year, treat yourself to a weekend get-away in a nice B&B.
  • For hitting the gym five times a week for a month, buy yourself a new exercise outfit.
  • For connecting with family members every week for a year, treat yourself (and maybe them) to a trip you’ve always wanted to take.
  • For learning a new language, treat yourself to a trip to a foreign country.
  • For sticking with a new exercise routine for a year, buy yourself an iPad or a bigger TV.

The Possibilities Are Endless

If you want to improve your life by changing behavior, rewards just might be the ticket for you. Just be sure you don’t undermine your efforts with an inappropriate reward. If you want to lose weight, don’t use food as a reward. A walk in the park would be a better option.

There’s no end of possible rewards, from free things to expensive trips. If you need more ideas, you can check out this article, “155 Ways to Reward Yourself.”

Revel in your success and enjoy the rewards.

What would you consider a great reward for the goal you had set to accomplish this year? How about some short-term rewards that could help you get there? Do you think rewards can really help turn a behavior into a habit? Please share your observations and experiences below.