The science of how to stick to New Year's resolutions and truly change your habits

Change your behavior by pairing a new habit with something you already enjoy.

(CNN)Next year will be a crucial year for Erika Kirgios as she works to complete her doctorate, publish academic papers and try to land a faculty job at a university.

Not surprisingly, one of her New Year's resolutions is to focus on her career.
In order to find some delight in what could be long nights working alone, she is applying her research in the science of behavior change to pair meticulous work -- writing research articles -- with a decadent temptation -- in her case, a particular candle and cup of tea.
"I'm really going to focus on writing," Kirgios said. "I only light my favorite candle and drink my favorite tea when I'm writing because I need to make sure that I have the external motivations to get started.
    The doctoral student at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School has an advantage -- her research focuses on ways we can ensure successful behavioral change.
    The good news is that her lab has found a litany of ways science can make your resolution stick this year. Here's how to proceed.

    Behavior change

    Kirgios' method for increasing her likelihood of a successful resolution is known as "temptation bundling," according to Katy Milkman, professor of operations, information and decisions at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
    Milkman oversees Kirgios' research and co-directs Penn's Behavior Change for Good Initiative.
    Kirgios and Milkman tested temptation bundling in a study published this year of more than 6,000 members of 24 Hour Fitness gyms around the United States. One group was given a free audiobook and encouragement to listen to it while working out; a second group was given the free audiobook without the extra nudge; and a third group didn't receive the book.
    Those who consciously bundled the temptation of the free audiobook with exercising were 10% to 14% more likely to have a weekly workout than those who didn't have a book.
    That same concept can work in other situations.
    Create an incentive: As the mother of a 4-year-old, Milkman, the Wharton professor, is thinking about setting a resolution to stay off her phone and be more present with her family during dinner.
    One way she could accomplish that is by having her husband make a donation to a charity she hates every time she slips up and responds to a buzz on her phone during dinner.
    One online tool, StickK, enables you to put real money on the line to help you stick to your commitments.
    Milkman declined to name which loathed charity her husband might pick to send 10 bucks whenever she slips her phone out at the table. But use your imagination, and brainstorm how you can up the ante financially to encourage positive behavior in yourself or a friend.
    Create a plan: For goal setting, you can follow the WOOP framework, which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacles and Plan. That means beginning with a wish and imagining a positive outcome that could emerge from achieving that goal. Then you identify any obstacles hindering you, before devising a plan to navigate around them.
    Piggybacking: It's similar to temptation bundling, and refers to stacking an activity you'd like to start after a routine habit. Many people brush their teeth every day, but fewer people floss. So British scientists designed a study in which one group of people was told to floss before brushing, and another after brushing.
    Eight months later, those who trained to floss after brushing had a stronger habit than the other group.
    Frame your resolution positively: A recent study by scientists published in the open-access journal PLOS One showed that framing your resolution positively could be a way to increase your likelihood of success.
    Researchers from Stockholm University and Linköping University in Sweden noticed that resolvers with "approach" goals were 12% more likely to succeed than those with goals centered around avoiding something.
    So consider phrasing your resolution, "I want to start cycling," rather than, for instance, "I want to quit eating ice cream."