Yes, it’s that time of year, when you look ahead to January 1st and consider what big life changes you can make.
If you’re trying to make change that lasts, a New Year’s resolution is the wrong way to do it.
80% of people who make resolutions don’t last more than two weeks.
I know, you’re different. But what if you’re not?
Why resolutions don’t build habits
Actually, they do build habits, but they’re the bad kind.
Here’s the deal: you’re making your goals too lofty.
It’s not your fault, it’s how resolutions have been pushed on us over the years.
Resolutions are big. And a big deal.
Resolutions are life-changing.
- Get healthy, eat more veggies, go keto.
- Journal every day, be happier, meditate daily.
- Walk more, stretch every morning, less screen time.
They’re also kind of all over the place. Some are specific (journal every day), while others are pretty vague (less screen time).
On each end of the spectrum, there’s a big chance of feeling like you failed.
It’s hard to measure whether you’re happier, or whether you ‘got healthy,’ so after a few weeks, you’ll stop and feel like you failed.
Did you know there’s an International Quitters Day?
It marks the day when most people have stopped following their New Year’s resolutions.
It’s the 2nd Friday in January, and 80% of people will have given up on their resolutions by then.
You might stop your resolution after a few weeks, and for a very good reason, but it doesn’t matter to your subconscious.
Not liking keto is a great reason to stop. Especially if it’s not working for you. But again, it doesn’t matter, because if you stop you will feel like you failed.
At least that’s what your subconscious will tell you.
Good habits are built on successes
Of course good habits are built on success, but what most people don’t realize is that wherever you ‘fail’ at something it makes it less likely you’ll try again.
And if you do try again, you’re more likely to fail again.
After you fail, it’s common to expect to fail again.
I mean, the odds that it will be different aren’t great, even when you tell yourself “this time, it will be different.”
Really, what about it is different? This time you mean it? This time you really mean it?
I don’t want to be too harsh, but these are the conversations going on between you and yourself, down in your subconscious.
The bottom line is this: No one wants to fail, but if you think it’s going to happen, it’s probably going to happen, so why try?
Can you see how this gets harder with each attempt?
The solution isn’t to try harder, but to try something else.
Not a different resolution, but a different strategy.
Build the habit of habits
The habit of habits seems like something a Mother Superior would wear, doesn’t it?
Instead, it’s the practice of forming small habits that build on each other, and doing it over and over again until habit building itself is a habit.
And once you know how to build habits, habit-building gets easier each time.
The best part is that you’ll not only learn how to build habits, but build cool habits at the same time!
5-Step Habit Building
- Pick something you KNOW you can do every day.
- Do it for an extended but limited and definitive period of time.
- Give yourself permission to stop if you don’t like it or it’s not working for you.
- If you didn’t like what you’ve been doing OR the results you got, either modify it or stop it and move on to trying a new habit.
- If you did like it AND the results you got, either keep going as is, or modify it slightly and start again at #1.
#1 — Pick something you know you can do
If you pick something you think you can do, think again. It’s too hard. Go easier.
You need to succeed more than you need to build the ideal habit. That part comes later, and it’s often built up of many smaller habits, anyway.
Examples of good daily habits to start:
- Get outdoor light for 5 minutes in the morning
- Walk for 15 minutes after 1 meal
- Write one line in your journal
- Stretch your calves during a commercial break
- Meditate for 5 minutes
Do you see how simple, easy, and doable these are?
It’s okay to do more, but you want to make sure your minimum is so easy that it’s foolproof.
#2 — Do it for an extended but definitive period of time
Two weeks is the minimum, but 21 days, 30 days, or a month might be better.
It takes time to build a habit, but it also takes time to know if you like the process and results.
#3 — Give yourself permission to stop
This is HUGE.
I use the word ‘permission’ a lot with my clients, and for good reason.
It’s important to give yourself permission to stop something if you don’t like it or if it’s not serving you.
This is the key to not failing, or feeling like a failure.
If the habit you’re trying to build is getting up at dawn to go outside and walk, but after a few days, you realize dawn sucks, it’s not a problem to stop, because you gave yourself permission to stop.
Permission to stop is key to not feeling like you failed, even subconsciously.
Never forget you have a subconscious.
I mean, technically it’s on your side, but its instincts are always the best.
#4 — If you didn’t like it, stop doing it
If you don’t like what you’ve been doing OR aren’t happy with the results you got, either modify the habit or stop it entirely, then move on to trying a new habit.
If you followed rule #1, then it probably wasn’t too hard, but the parameters could have been wrong.
Was it the wrong time of day or something that you just ended up not liking?
No problem. If you think you can adjust it and try again, go for it.
If it wasn’t for you, now you know.
Either way, count this as a success.
Build on that feeling by picking another foolproof habit to try!
#5 — If you like it, keep going!
If you’re happy with the results you got and you liked how you got them, either keep going (as is), or modify it slightly and start again up at number 1.
Wait, before you move on, this might not be a habit yet
Don’t fall for the myth that habits take 21 days to form. Different habits take different lengths of time, and they are different for everybody (Eur. J. Soc. Psychol).
You could form a habit in 21 days, but probably not. It will be easier after 21 days, but it’s technically getting easier every day you do it. Starting at day 2..
Congratulations you’ve just shown yourself you can do it, but it probably hasn’t been cemented.
It’s still all too easy to let things slide if you’re not careful.
If you want your habit to stick around, long-term, you have to ensure that you maintain the practice or patterns you’ve been doing.
Don’t forget to keep up whatever you did while practicing the habit.
If you were tracking, logging, or setting up your schedule or workspace to make the habit work, keep doing that until whatever you’re doing is second nature.
The less ‘out of your element’ the new habit is, the longer you might need to keep on it.
Consider adding a monthly reminder to your calendar to check in on your habits, goals, and progress.
Monthly check-ins are a great way to spot something slipping or needing a change before things get too far off track.
I’ve done a monthly health check-in (with myself) since about 2003.
I use it to check my progress against my goals, but also to make sure I don’t backslide on my healthy habits.
Long ago, I vowed to lose the weight and never gain it back. I credit these monthly check-ins for helping me keep my 110 pound weight loss since 2003!
Congratulations, you’ve built a new habit!
Two, actually, because the habit of habits counts, too.
Keep this up with new habits, and soon you’ll not only be healthier and happier, but have the ultimate power to build whatever habit you want!