New Years resolutions and habits
Today is December 31st. Tonight 50% of American adults will make a New Years resolution. By February 28th 90% of them will have broken their resolution. I know New Years resolutions don’t work so I don’t set them. Instead I build a new habit on the first of each month. Normally I will pick a specific habit that will help with a goal I have. For example if I want to improve my mindfulness I will work on creating a habit of meditating for 5 minutes every morning. The habits I work on are very deliberate. This has been my approach for years.
There is another, more organic approach though. This is to build “keystone habits.” I first learned of keystone habits in Charles Duhiggs excellent book called “The Power of Habit.” The idea is you build an initial habit that will then trigger more habits. For example the keystone habit of walking 10,000 steps a day develops in to going for a 5k run to going to the gym and lifting weights. This year I have decided to try this more organic approach to see where it takes me.
Half of all New Years resolutions are either to exercise more or lose weight. These are both goals that would help me. I do light exercise every morning. I don’t like getting hot and sweaty so I struggle to do serious workouts though. In the winter I do spend every weekend teaching alpine skiing so at least for 5 months of the year I get more exercise. This is definitely an area I would benefit from working on though. I am also a little overweight, not morbidly obese by any means but it would be good for me to lose 15 or 20 pounds. I generally eat OK but I have a sweet tooth which is my downfall. This is another area I could benefit from working on.
My One Habit
I decided to focus on weight loss. The best keystone habit to help with weight loss is to keep a food log. A Kaiser Permenente study of 1600 people found that those who kept a food log lost twice as much weight as those who did not. These findings are backed up by research from the National Institute of Health as well. Tracking food is also a key component of the Weight Watchers program. Sufficed to say food logs work. Incidentally the reason food logs are effective is they make you aware of what you are actually eating. For example, if you asked me to remember what I ate yesterday I would definitely recall the oatmeal I had for breakfast, the apple I had for snack, the whole wheat turkey sandwich I had for lunch and the pasta and veg I had for dinner. My recollection on the cookie I had at work and the donut I had when I got my coffee on the way work is less clear though. It’s these “hidden” calories that are contributing to my middle aged spread!
To help my chances of success I can link a food log to an existing habit as well. I already have the habit of writing a bullet journal every morning. As part of my morning routine I write down my intention for the day, how I am feeling and something I am grateful for. I have an app on my phone already and I can just add a section at the bottom to record everything I eat. To build a habit you need a reminder and a routine. Mine will be “when I eat then I will write it in my journal.” The app I use also gives me reminders on my phone.
So this year I am setting the New Years resolution to create the keystone habit of logging my food. I am calling this “One Habit.” My expectation (and hope) is that this habit will develop more habits that help improve my weight (and reduce my middle age spread) throughout the next year. I will share updates as I go along.
Happy New Year!