Resolution Roadblock? Try setting new habits to ensure you achieve your goals…
Every year I have the best intentions when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. I set my sights high and give myself at least one goal to conquer. You know the type of thing… ‘this year I am going to get fitter’, ‘this year I am going to secure that new job’, ‘this year I am going to spend less time on screens’. If you are anything like me, the first week is a doddle and you feel smug with the progress you make. But, as the days go by it becomes increasingly hard to keep the momentum going, especially as the Christmas spirit fades and the winter winds howl – who wants to for a run in this weather?
So, this year I thought it was time to approach things differently. I did lots of reading and listened to the odd podcast and discovered where I was going wrong; I wasn’t putting in the groundwork required to ensure sustained results. More specifically I was reverting to old habits as I hadn’t embedded new ones. Simply put, in order to succeed I needed to make small sustainable changes; I needed to take stepping stones to reach my end goal. This is where habits come in. By setting new habits in relation to my goal I would be more likely to succeed.
Let’s just pause for a second and look at what a habit is in a bit more detail. James Clear, the author of blockbuster book Atomic Habits, defines habits as “small decisions you make and actions you perform every day” and asserts that “when you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life”. Habits differ from resolutions or goals in that they are more specific. Now to drop a bombshell, taking this approach is not a quick fix and setting a new habit is not easy (we must first break old ones). But, and this is what sold it to me, habits become stronger over time and they also become progressively more automatic. Thus, by forming good habits we can not only reach our goals more effectively, but they become a sustained part of our daily lives.
Tips for creating new habits:
Start small and add on incrementally:
When introducing a new habit, if you make it complicated you risk setting yourself up for failure. For instance, if you are looking to get fit it’s not advisable to set yourself the goal of going to the gym 5 times a week for an hour at a time. This is unlikely to be sustainable (especially if you are new to exercise or haven’t done any in a while). Instead try committing to completing 5 minutes of exercise at home each day. By making a habit easy you are more likely to complete it and more importantly, repeat it. You’ll find that after a while you will naturally add to it, perhaps increasing the time or intensity of the exercises.
Schedule it at time that you are likely to be able to complete it
With busy schedules it’s easy for lack of time to be an excuse for not completing that new task. However, if you set this habit into your daily schedule then there is no justification for not getting it done. Try setting an alert on your phone to prompt you or tie the task into an already formed habit. I know that I am most successful at getting things done at the beginning of the day, so I set an alarm to complete my exercise first thing. However, you may find it easier to do push ups while you wait for the kettle to boil, or do squats while you are brushing your teeth.
Repetition is key:
Remember that in time habits become automatic; our brains actually change to make the behaviour easier to complete. However, according to heathline.com “It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic”. So, if you want that habit to stick you need to keep it up. That said, we are all human and sometime life can get in the way. If you miss a day, don’t sweat it, just make sure you pick it up the next day. Equally, doing something is better than nothing – even if you do a 2 minute workout instead of 5, it is a step towards the habit becoming ingrained.
Until a habit becomes automatic it is still a choice. So, by eliminating other options you are more likely to stick to the new behaviour. For example, by packing a healthy lunch every day and leaving your wallet at home, you limit your options and are thus much more likely to follow your desired habit. It is easy to revert back to old ways, but if the choice to do so isn’t there you give yourself the best chance at success.
The idea behind setting good habits is that they provide sustained growth and improvement. Going back to the example of the gym, it’s all very well and good if you manage to go 5 times a week for the first week (getting that smug feeling), but if you only go 3 times the next week and 1 the week after your success rate drops (and you likely feel defeated). If instead, you make consistent incremental wins this is likely to ensure lasting improvement.
Why not join me in evaluating your New Years’ resolutions? Can you shift the focus from achieving a specific goal to creating positive long-term habits? Why not aim to make continuous improvement a way of life.