Forget New Year’s resolutions: focus on habits to improve health and reduce stress and entrepreneurial burnout

Are you already tired of your New Year’s resolutions?

I would be, if I had made any. I’m tired of reading the lists on Facebook, links on Twitter, earnest articles everywhere. Most resolutions fail, most people give them up within six days, and people often pick the same resolutions for ten years without noticeable progress. That’s why I like to focus on habits that improve health, reduce stress and prevent entrepreneurial burnout.

I’ve been inspired by James Clear’s Atomic Habits, as well as a previous favorite, Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before. Both say if we make desired behavior a habit, life is easier because we don’t have to spend mental energy making a decision. The habit becomes an automatic way we live. Since diet and exercise are common New Year’s resolutions, let’s look at examples of the difference between a resolution and a habit.

Focus on habits to improve health, reduce stress and prevent entrepreneurial burnout

What’s the difference between a resolution and a habit? A resolution is an outcome you want. A habit is a consistent action or behavior that can help you get there..

The benefits of eating more meals at home

RESOLUTION: I will lose ten pounds.
HABIT: I cook dinner three nights a week using groceries I order online and have delivered every Monday.

Research shows that meals from restaurants, whether fast-food or more traditional sit-down restaurants, contain more calories and sodium than meals prepared at home (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25076113.) Entrepreneurs, small business owners, and creative artists may find it hard to prepare meals at home because they don’t have food in the house. Set up automatic grocery delivery and you’re on your way to eating more simple meals at home.

Set up a habit of eating more meals at home to improve health and reduce stress and burnout
Automate grocery shopping to make it easier to eat meals at home

Setting appointments for exercise helps reduce stress and prevent entrepreneurial burnout

RESOLUTION: I will exercise more and lose ten pounds.
HABIT: I put my yoga, biking, or gym gear in my car and put appointments on my calendar to work out at a specific time every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

What’s good about this habit? It takes care of the what (type of exercise), how (gear always available in car), and when, and creates a habit. When you make an appointment, you eliminate the mental work of deciding when to exercise. Many entrepreneurs, small business owners and creative artists experience mental fatigue and overwhelm because they have so many decisions to make. Remove that from your life by setting appointments for exercise, and you’ll feel better.

Exercise helps improve health and reduce stress and burnout.
I always feel calm and relaxed after bicycling.

I’ve kept workout gear packed and ready to go for years. I remember a crazy, hectic year when I exercised three times a week despite major obstacles. First I traveled, then I got stuck at home during two ice storms. I moved, and I suffered from vertigo. If I had waited to exercise when it was easy or convenient, it wouldn’t have happened.

My role model: a man who demonstrated good habits

My father passed away in 2014 after a long, habit-filled life. For his last eight years, he went to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For breakfast he prepared oatmeal with raisins and nuts. At 9 pm every evening he enjoyed a square of dark chocolate and a cup of black coffee. His dog pranced and jumped at two in the afternoon, because he knew it was time for their walk. His habits didn’t make him boring. Rather, they freed him for fun and adventure. In his last year, he lived near his brother-in-law Bill, a man on the go. Bill would call and ask “Hey, do you want to go with me?” Dad’s usual response: “Pick me up! I’ll be waiting for you at the end of the driveway.”

Pet ownership improves health and reduces stress.
A pet can be an accountability partner who reminds you to exercise.

He used habits to improve health and reduce stress and burnout. Because he didn’t have many fires to put out in his personal life, he had time and energy to live well.

What about you?

Look at your environment, and assess if it is set up to help you build the habits you want. While willpower usually doesn’t work, controlling your environment does.

If you want deeper, more restful sleep, do you have a TV in the bedroom? Get it out, and make the last hour before bedtime a time of quiet and relaxation.

If you want to eat more healthy foods, have you done a pantry cleanse? I know people who struggle to control their food intake, yet keep their kitchen stocked with chips, soft drinks and candy bars. I don’t have enough willpower to deal with that, so I only keep around dark chocolate, unsalted peanuts, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. If I must have a chocolate chip cookie or a scoop of ice cream, I go out and buy a single serving. I know form experience that most nights I won’t want a treat enough to get dressed and drive to the market.

More words about habits:


“Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life.”

                  –Gretchen Rubin

“Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.”

–James Clear

Entrepreneurs, small business owners, and creative artists who make rituals of eating well, sleeping, and exercise will find their business benefits from a focus on habits that reduce stress and prevent entrepreneurial burnout.

I help entrepreneurs, small business owners, and creatives build healthy habits that drain stress and generate more energy and joy. Read about my personal journey here: 


© 2020 Deborah Rankin RD

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