As I write this it is a week before January 1st. Nearly half of us will make a “New Years Resolutions” this year. Sadly, less than 10% of people will actually keep them though.
“I want to lose weight.”
“I want to start exercising.”
“I want to eat more healthily.”
Those are all great ideas. In fact more half of all New Years resolutions are health related. How are you going to lose weight though? What exercise are you going to start doing? How are you going to change your diet? Those resolutions are vague, they aren’t actionable. You might do something towards them on a whim but I guarantee it will last less than a week. If you are going to make a lasting change you have to make it a habit.
Research shows that at least 40% of what we do every day is a habit. At least 40% of what we do is on auto-pilot. If you want to make lasting change your chances of success are much higher if you can do it without thinking.
Every habit has 3 parts – the reminder, the routine and the reward. Every habit is initiated by a reminder or a trigger. For example, every morning when I go in to the bathroom to get ready the first thing I do is brush my teeth. Entering the bathroom is my reminder. The next part is the routine or the habit itself. In this case the action of brushing my teeth. Finally, do continue doing a habit again and again you need to get something desirable out of it – you need a reward. In the teeth brushing example having a clean, minty fresh, mouth is my reward.
A great way to specify a habit is to put it in a “when… then…” sentence. In addition to encompassing the parts of a habit by doing this you are also declaring what is called an “implimentation intention.” People who decide in advance what they are going to do at a given time are 2 to 3 times more likely to follow through.
So write your “resolution” in the form of a “when… then…” statement. For example “When I finish eating lunch then I will go for a brisk 10 minute walk.”
Next, many people make their resolutions too big. “I am going to start running 5 miles everyday.” If you haven’t put on a pair of running shoes in 15 years that is awfully overwhelming. You are making it really hard to get started. Start so small you can’t not do it. Your ultimate goal might be to run 5 miles a day but start with walking 1 mile first. That’s easy enough to start. Then once you have stuck to that, start walking faster, start walking longer. Then once you can go for a fast paced walk start going for a light jog. And so on until you eventually can run 5 miles. A 5 mile run might be better than a 1 mile walk but a 1 mile walk is better than nothing. Infact recent research suggests walking has the same benefit as running so the walk could even be as good as the run.
Lastly, it takes time to build a habit. In fact depending on the habit it can take anywhere from 14 to 254 days. The average however is 66 days. So, you are going to have to do something for 2 months to make it a habit. The only way you can do that is if it is sustainable. Whatever habit you pick you must be able to do consistently. If you want to make a habit of spending 30 minutes on the StairMaster 2000 machine at your gym, is that sustainable if you travel for work? Perhaps doing the New York Times 7 minute workout would be better because you can do it anywhere. You should also plan for life to happen. Set an implimentation intention that “when I miss one day of my habit I resume the next day.” It can be easy for one missed day to turn in to two and then three and then a broken habit, but if you decide in advance that if you miss a day you will resume it the next day no matter what – your chances of making it to the 2 month mark are much higher. You can also be flexible in your definition of success too. If you have been running 3 miles every day and then miss a day because you are sick, the next day just go for a 5 minute walk. That’s good enough for you to feel you haven’t broken your habit so you can keep going. I recommend marking every day you do your habit on a chart.
Speaking of time, think about the phrase “new YEAR’s resolution.” You are committing to doing something for 365 whole days. That’s an awfully long time. Infact, its so overwhelming its hard to get started. I strongly suggest you commit to doing your habit for 2 months only. That is a much smaller committment and far less overwhelming. At the end of the 2 months if it is a habit then you will naturally continue. If you realize at the end of the 2 months that running really isn’t your thing then you can start a new 2 month habit. If you do this all year and only half your 2 month habits stick you will still have made far more progress than the 90% of people who break their one new years resolution.
Are you still reading? Great, now go grab a pen and paper. Start by thinking about what you want your new habit to be. Pick something small, specific and sustainable. Remember you want it to be so small you can’t not do it.
Now at the top of your paper write “WHEN” and the trigger for your habit. A third of the way down write “THEN” followed by what your habit it.
Two thirds of the way down draw a 7 x 8 grid to track your progress. Under the grid write the sentence “If i miss one day I will resume the next day.”
WHEN I finish eating lunch
THEN I will go for a 10 minute walk
If I miss one day I will resume the next day.
Now go post your piece of paper somewhere visible and look at it every morning. Also set yourself some kind of reminder for your habit. Either a note or a calendar reminder – whatever works for your. Then put an appointment in your calendar for the first of March, May, July, September and November to start a new habit.
There you go, now you can make this year the year you make the changes you’ve always wanted to!
Happy New Year!