So it is that time of the year again. We have reached the end and we start to look forward to the new year. We could have objectives at any time of the year but the beginning of a new year always feels like a starting point again. What do we hope for, what are we looking to achieve or obtain. As such it is also time for new year resolutions. Last year I published a blog post called Best to make that New Year’s resolution a SMART Resolutions then! (found here). In it, we talked about making a resolution count and so the importance of making is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). This year I think we should go one better and look at habits instead.
Did you know that researchers at Duke University found that habits are the cause of 40% of our daily happenings. There are so many things we do … well, because we just do them. We do not think about it and we certainly do not decide on whether to do it just this way or that. We just do them and do them automatically. That is a really powerful thing because if we can achieve doing something and yet not really have to think about it then surely we have attained something. If we want to get fitter and in the end it does not mean we have to drag ourselves out of bed early each morning but instead automatically reach for our swim gear the moment we get up then surely we have achieved that goal. Swimming has become an habit, and so we are far more likely to do it. It is has become a way of life. So how to we build one?
Start with a small habit
Our mistake is that we create this goal but it is too easy to think to big. Going back to SMART goals they certainly are not realistic. So before we book our flights to take part in the Iron Man Competition, perhaps we should compete in a local marathon first. No wait, before we do that perhaps compete in a half marathon and train for that first.
Alternatively maybe your goal is to live longer. How do we achieve that? Did you know that people who regularly floss actually live 6 years longer. Again lets break that down. Just commit to flossing a single tooth. That’s exactly what Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg did when he started his flossing habit. He stated:
For me, cracking the code on flossing was to put the floss right by the toothbrush, and to commit to myself that I would floss one tooth — only one tooth — every time after I brushed. I could floss them all if i wanted to, but the commitment was just one tooth. [This works] because I was training the behaviour. Maybe once every few weeks, I’d only actually floss one tooth, but a majority of the time I’d end up flossing them all.
Think of a row of dominoes. Did you know that a domino can knock down one which is 50% greater. So a 4cm domino can knock down one which is 6cm which knocks down which is 9cm and so forth. That’s why we start with a small habit which will then lead to a bigger one.
Make it easy and keep your motivation levels high.
Triggers and plan
Now that you have defined your goal we will now need to plan for it. It is easier (and therefore more achievable) if you link it to an event. The “If-Then” triggers. For example “every morning when I get up I am going to do 10 push ups”. This way you have linked it to something you already do regularly and so it will be easier to achieve it.
For instance, instead of “I will keep a cleaner house,” you could aim for, “When I come home, I’ll change my clothes and then clean my room/office/kitchen.”
“If it is Monday, Wednesday or Friday I will go swimming before work”. “When it comes to 16:00 at work then I will return all my calls”. “When I get home on Monday, I will …” and so forth.
Linking it to an event or habit you already do will double or triple your chances of success.
Don’t miss twice (consecutively)
Ok, lets face it no one is perfect. We all mess up. We were doing so well we thought and it all fell apart.
It’s understandable and we are bound to miss it once or twice, but be determined that they are not on consecutively days. If they are then it becomes a slippery slope. Instead analyse why you missed it. What were the events that caused you to miss it. Perhaps your timing is not quite natural. Maybe going to the gym early in the morning is just too much to ask for. After all you have been telling your friends for years that you are not a morning person. So maybe going to gym in your lunch hour or on the way home would be a more natural fit.
Go for the long haul
As the saying goes Rome was not built in a day, and neither will your habit be. In fact, research has shown that it takes on average 66 days for something to become habit. That is to say, that you do it without much thinking and instead almost do it automatically. Therefore break down your goal, find triggers, track it and don’t fail twice (consecutively!)