How to keep your new years resolution to start cycling

Let's go ride bikes

In a survey of over 3,000 people, British psychologist Richard Wiseman found that 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail.

88% failure!

What do you need to do, to avoid being part of the 88% that fail?

For a start, science shows that humans have limited willpower. If you were given a tough task, such as to remember a long series of numbers, you’ll use up much of your willpower. Then, when presented with a choice between a chocolate or an apple, you’ll most likely go for the unhealthy option.

What does that mean when it comes to cycling?

Our limited willpower means we should aim to tackle just one new habit at a time. Therefore, forget healthy eating, forget going to the gym and forget quitting smoking. Let’s just focus on one thing at a time.

This is hard for people, as they inevitably think “but I’m different to everyone else, I can do this!”

By aiming to change everything in your life at once, you’re more likely to end up changing nothing.

However, there’s some great news. In the bestselling book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that by changing just one habit at a time, you’ll be able to build on that and achieve more throughout the 12 months.

Don’t aim to “start cycling”

A typical new years resolution will be “Start cycling”. That’s far too broad. It’s better to aim for something specific:

“Cycle in to work every Wednesday”

Most people will say, but there’s no point just cycling in to work once per week! However, they forget that cycling is actually multiple new habits.

It may be the habit of getting up a little earlier, the habit of packing a change of clothes and the habit of having a shower at work.

By aiming to start small, you create a momentum. You know how when you start writing an email, you feel compelled to finish it? The same principle is in play here. Once you start cycling, you’ll feel compelled to continue.

Start small and achieve big.

Be aware of the barriers

Invariably certain barriers will present themselves:

  • But I don’t know what the best route in to work is
  • But I only have an old mountain bike
  • But I don’t have £500 to spend on a new bike

Therefore, it’s best to keep things simple.

  • Don’t know what the best route in to work is? Just take the one that is most obvious to you. You can tweak it later on.
  • You only have an old mountain bike? It will do! Upgrade when you’ve got a bit more money.
  • Don’t have £500 to spend on a new bike? Borrow one off your friend, use a Boris Bike or buy second hand.

How a small envelope and a good friend helped me get organised

A few months back I was struggling to get a bunch of things done in the run up the launch of the London Cyclist bike maintenance course. I grabbed my house mate, shoved £100 in an envelope and told him that if I hadn’t achieved this list of 10 things by the end of the week, he should spend that money on whatever he wants.

Needless to say, I worked very hard that week!

Why does this work? Because humans are motivated more by the fear of loss, than of gain. Therefore, it’s all very well me sitting here telling you:

  • You’ll be healthier
  • You’ll get to work feeling fresh
  • You’ll be able to eat more cake, because you’ll be burning more calories

But that won’t have anywhere near as much effect as you losing £100 by not doing it.

Pick a work colleague and give them an envelope full of money. Tell them that if you don’t cycle in to work every Wednesday for the next 4 weeks, he or she can spend that money on anything they want.

Alternatively use a website such as Stickk.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

3 Responses to How to keep your new years resolution to start cycling

  1. Steve A 05/01/2013 at 12:12 am #

    Hmm, as in “I resolve to drive to work at least once in 2013?”

  2. Gwion Llwyd 06/01/2013 at 11:42 pm #

    I thought some of your readers might find this article helpful in keeping their New Years resolution.

  3. Greg L 20/01/2013 at 8:15 pm #

    I was wondering if anyone was looking for cycling buddies like I am? For motivation, nothing beats knowing there is a group waiting for you. I like to road ride at 25km/hr or so but don’t have the time to go on a 5 hour ride with a club (and I think it is a bit crazy paying fees). I already have a couple of friends who I ride with – all good people. But we would like to grow the group beyond the few of us. We have just written a website if you are interested in joining in. We typically ride around or out from Regents Park. See you on the road. Greg

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