Every January half of American adults create “New Years Resolutions.” They resolve to make good changes like going to the gym every day, losing weight or being happier. Sadly studies have shown that 90% of those people give up on their resolution by February! I believe the reason people fail is they are resolving to make a huge change for an entire year without a way to actually achieve the change.
So, if you are one of the people who would like to make a change for the good, what should you do? My suggestion is that instead of making one big resolution you more than likely won’t stick to, resolve to make six smaller habits through out the year instead. Research has shown that at least 40% of our daily actions are based on habits and routines, not newly formed decisions. If you concentrate on forming habits throughout the year you can make changes that will stick.
Researchers at MIT found that a habit has 3 parts – a reminder, the routine and a reward. The reminder is what triggers you to do the habit. The routine is the set of actions or the habit itself. The reward is the benefit you get from it. To create a new habit all you need to get started is one piece of paper and a pen.
HOW TO CREATE A HABIT
Write the word “WHEN” at the top of your piece of paper. One third of the way down write the word “THEN.” Two thirds of the way down write the word “PROGESS.” Under the word progress draw an 8 by 8 grid. Finally at the bottom of the page write the sentence “If I miss one day then I will resume the next day.”
If I miss one day then I will resume the next day.
Then pick one, small, habit you want to build. It is really important to work on only one habit at a time. Focusing on one habit at a time increases your chances of success by 70%. Start really small with your habit and increase it over time. Make it so small you can’t not do it. Habits take an average of 66 days to form so you have plenty of time to grow it.
Not all habits are created equal. The best habits to start with are proven “keystone habits.” These are ones that create a domino effect that once formed cause you to make more habits. The following are proven keystone habits:
- Fat loss. Keep a food log. One of the best ways to start losing weight is to simply keep track of what you eat. Carry a notebook with you and write down in it every time you eat something.
- Exercise. Walk 10,000 steps a day. If you want to start exercising, get a pedometer or fitness tracker and walk 10,000 steps a day. Go for a 20 minute walk after every meal and you will be 8,000 steps closer to your goal.
- Stress. Meditate. Meditation is a great first habit for any goal. It builds the mind muscle and helps you worry less and focus more. Frequency is more important than duration. Even 5 minutes a day has been shown to have a benefit. Start meditating before you get out of bed each morning.
- Happiness. Keep a gratitude journal. Set a reminder for 8.00pm every night and write down 3 things you are grateful for. This practice has been scientifically proven to increase happiness.
- Finance. Track your spending. At the end of everyday enter everything you have spent in to a spreadsheet or a book. Seeing everything you spend your money on in one place helps make better budgeting decisions.
Now, fill in the “WHEN… THEN…” statement on the sheet with the reminder (“when”) and the routine (“then.”) In addition to being the reminder and the routine the “when… then…” statement acts as an “implementation intention.” Implementation intentions are simply deciding in advance what you will do in a given situation or at a given time. Implementation intentions have been tested and proven to work in hundreds of studies.
Place your piece of paper somewhere you will see it. Your bathroom mirror, your fridge or your notice board are all good places for your piece of paper. Read your “WHEN… THEN…” statement every morning. This is important. This is setting the intention for your “implementation intention” to work. This is what is going to help you actually do your habit every day. You can also mentally rehearse the habit in your head at the same time. Visualize yourself doing your habit. Sports Psychologists use mental practice to decrease the time needed to learn a new action. You can use this to help form your habit more quickly too.
Now do your habit at your chosen time. Note: don’t skip this step. 🙂
Mark an “X” on the grid each time you do your habit. Tracking your progress on a chart leverages the brains psychological desire for consistency to help you persist until your routine becomes a habit. This is also known as the “Seinfeld” method and is named after the comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
Commit to never missing more than one day in a row. Setting an implementation intention a head of time in case you skip a day helps you continue your habit. Missing one day occasionally is OK. Missing two days is dangerous because it often leads to missing three days then four days and before you know it you have stopped completely. If you have to shrink your habit so you can do it the next day then do so. Regressing from 30 pushups back to one pushup but continuing your habit is better than stopping totally.
Here is an example of what a habit sheet would look like.
WHEN I make my first cup of coffee
THEN I will meditate for one minute
If I miss one day then I will do my habit the next day.
I’ve found over the years that the excitement for doing a new habit will only lasts for a few days. If you want to keep it up for long enough for it to become an actual habit you need to leverage some tools. Using this method combines several proven psychological concepts to help you persist.
Commit to doing your new habit for just two months. That is much less overwhelming than committing for a whole entire year. On the first of March either make your habit bigger or add a second habit. Rinse and repeat on the first day of every second month during the year. I’ve been making bi monthly habits for years. I’ve found that some habits I stick to every month and some habits fall by the wayside after a month. That’s OK! Even if I only manage to stick to three of my six habits in a year I am miles ahead of someone who makes one resolution in January, breaks it in February and doesn’t do anything else for the rest year!