New Years Resolutions Don’t Work. Habits Do.
I know. I’m lazy. But I made myself a New Years resolution that I would write myself something really special. Which means I have ’til December, right? – Catherin O’Hara
It’s that time of year again when we come to make New Years resolutions. This is the year that is going to top all previous years we tell ourselves. I’m guessing your New Years resolutions are along the lines of losing weight, getting organised or saving money and spending less. These are 3 examples that tend to top lists.
We all have the best intentions at the start of a new year but resolutions just don’t work. In a study sourced by Statistic Brain only 8% of people achieve their resolutions. There are many reasons why resolutions fail and they include setting too many goals at once or not making targets actionable.
You need to create sustainable long term change
Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. - Vince Lombardi
When looking to make a long term change in your life you need to make sure your goals are framed appropriately and that they’ll be sustainable. The top resolution normally is that of losing weight. This isn’t a sustainable goal if you’re just going to drop 3 stone and then get straight back on the junk food bandwagon. You need to change the mindset of the goal from ‘losing weight’ to ‘I’m going to start training 4 times a week to get healthy’. This is not only actionable but also had a positive long term view.
Why habits are essential to change
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle
Over the course of our lives we create a pattern of actions and behaviours from our interactions with the world. Some of these are good actions but we also perform bad ones. Either way, you are the sum of your habits. To ensure this long term change you need to create a habit which builds and contributes to your long term goal.
We create habits and behavioural patterns to tackle decision fatigue. You can read up on it here but it essentially means we can only handle so many decisions per day before our willpower is eroded. This can lead you to impulse buying at a supermarket or slipping back into old habits because its easier not to think at the end of the day. We will always look to automate our decisions so make sure you’re automating actions that improve your life.
In the next section I’ll go through a basic checklist on how to create a new and lasting habit to support your life goals.
How to build a habit
I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time. - Charles Dickens
1. Start small
Most people make the mistake of trying to achieve too much too fast. I’ve been guilty of this when I first started running a few years ago. Since I couldn’t go from sofa to 10k in a couple of weeks I got disheartened and switched back to being a sofa surfer once more. When coming back to tackle running I decided to start small and accept that I was going to start small.
The key to building strong foundations of a habit is to make the bar of success so low that you can’t but help but achieve it. Sounds like laziness but it really works. By doing this I’ve now ran my first half marathon with my sights set on running a full one this year.
If you can achieve your goals from the beginning you’ll start to build a positive mentality around the activity.
2. Build on it
Once you’ve got the foundations in place its time to build on your habit. Can you run further or save more money? Of course you can! By adding slowly to your habit you’ll see small changes which will frustrate some but when you come to the end of the year remember to look back at where you started. You might just surprise yourself with how far you’ve come.
3. Make it an experiment
Don’t treat your habit as an all or nothing fit for your life. Different methods work for different types of people and you’ll only find whats going to work for you if you’ve got an open mind. I found that running on a treadmill or cross country wasn’t for me so I hit the streets. Experiments don’t lead to failures, they lead to learning and that is what is key.
4. Hold yourself accountable
If you want to ensure that you stick with a habit then make yourself accountable. Make a record of every time you perform an action that supports the new behaviour. Lift is a really simple app to track this with so you’re not wasting hours logging activity.
Better still, make your accountability public. If you’re training for a marathon then make your spreadsheet public using Google Docs. Or if getting into shape is your aim then post photos of yourself online (not in that way). Sharing these updates on your progress with your peers is a great way to keep yourself motivated and can make you strive to achieve even more.
5. Find your triggers
As well as building new habits you’ll also be looking to break down old ones. For example, when I started running I was still in a habit of eating junk food. I found my triggers for craving a pizza or burger and started to change my mindset about them. For me (remember this is an experiment for everyone) I started to shift my view of food as a treat to viewing it as fuel to aid my running. This helped me make a transition to healthier foods over the long term and now I don’t even need to think about what I eat, I just naturally go for the better option for my body.
6. Don’t be afraid to fail
January is a gym managers favourite month. Hordes of people descend into the waiting arms of membership consultants ready to take in the new crop of people ready to get fit, shed weight and get motivated. Come February, the gyms will have a huge drop in usage but the 12 month contract will still be in place.
This is because people lose their motivation. They see the regular gym goers and think that even if they worked out 24/7 that they’d never be able to catch up. Wrong.
Even the hulking giant hogging the weights room started somewhere. So don’t be afraid to fail and throw yourself back into the ring time and time again.
People set themselves too many goals at the start of the year and get overwhelmed. Hence the high proportion of people who don’t achieve their resolutions. The key to success in health, business and life is focus. Take aim at that one key thing you want to change in your life this year and pursue it relentlessly.
I’ve focussed on fitness in my examples above but you can apply the same principles to both business and your learning goals for 2014.
In regards to my personal goals, my fitness habit was what I wanted to achieve in 2013 so now I’m going to be focussing on creating and refining a daily routine to wake up earlier everyday with the aim of having a standard 5.30am wake up time. It’ll take some work as I’ve shifted to a more nocturnal beast during these last few winter months but now I’m equipped with the tools to make a habit I’m looking forward to the challenge.
I’d love to hear the habits you want to create in 2014 so make sure to get in contact with me at @AdamJBall.