Do donuts hold the key to lasting habits?

Answer: Yes but not in the way we would like…


This time it’s for real”.  You’ve been telling yourself “this time” you’re going to lose the weight, learn that business skill, start waking up early and achieve more in your day. You know you promised yourself the same thing last year, and the year before that, but this year, this year is different. Right?


We repeat the sequence, epiphany, lack of action, a feeling of failure. A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman found that 88% of resolutions fall away before the year is up.


So why do we fail?


Numerous articles and opinions suggest that we fail to form lasting change because we set goals that are too big and don’t plan an effective strategy to implement the new behaviour.


I believe that these reasons are only partly true, there seems to be a bit more to it. After all, if your resolution was to eat more donuts, I am sure that you would effectively achieve this, plan or no plan!


Imagine you decide to run a marathon. Most of us would last a few training sessions before rationalizing our way out of such a ludicrous goal.

If the consequence of failing to run a marathon was that your house, car and all your worldly possessions were to be repossessed, you would no doubt push yourself enough to complete the marathon.


The difference appears obvious when you put it like that. Anthony Robbins was right, humans are driven by pleasure and pain. It appears that we avoid discomfort and when presented with a plethora of painful outcomes, we choose the least painful option.



Okay, so without putting your house, car and worldly possessions on the line, how can you achieve your goals?


We just need to make the discomfort of “not” completing the behaviour worse than the discomfort of actually completing the behaviour.


Success does not require full-time discipline, it requires discipline long enough to form the habit. To achieve your goals, you need to make a habit of the behaviours that contribute to the goal.


Habit formation relies on repeating a behaviour consistently over time (and studies indicate that “time” is around 66 days, not the mythical 21 days).

In order to do this, we need to use standard habit formation principles as well as a few strategies to keep us on track when the brain decides that it’s all too hard.



  1. Make the behaviour as small as possible (small enough that we can’t find an excuse not to do it)
  2. Attach the behaviour to an existing trigger (thereby limiting the need to simply “remember” to do it).
  3. Receive a reward from the behaviour (Positive and negative reinforcement).


The rewards offer motivation to keep us on track.

Professor Roy Baumeister and his colleagues discovered that we actually focus more on negative information and learn more from it than from positive information. Basically, a negative consequence seems to motivate us more than a positive consequence.


We can use these theories on behavioural science to create a strategy to keep us on track, even when the motivation is lacking, without putting the house on the line.

Strategy for lasting change:  Accountability


Holding yourself accountable for goals rather than simply rewarding with incentives can have a more lasting effect when it comes to long-term behaviour change. Accountability vastly improves the odds of sticking to your resolution and can be achieved two ways:

  1. Tell people about the goal and get them to monitor you. The “Hawthorn effect” proves that people are more likely to complete a task if they feel like their actions are being observed by others. It works on ego, we don’t want the embarrassment of failing in front of others. You can set up your own accountability group at home, among friends and at work. Simply knowing that someone is going to follow up on your progress will help make your new habit a priority.
  2. Put something valuable on the line (no, not your house). Money is something we cling to, its quantifiable and losing our hard earned money hits us hard. This principle is called loss aversion – Humans tend to prefer avoiding a loss over receiving a gain. It explains why you sit through a terrible movie purely because you paid for the ticket. You don’t want to waste money; you want to avoid a feeling of loss.

To make this strategy even more effective and encourage daily action, put money on the completion of daily steps.


So there you have it, make the action small and create a consequence that counteracts your brains aversion to change.



Habit reCode is the Android app that acts as your daily coach and accountability partner.

You only pay if you don’t follow through.



Now about those donuts…