Make ‘New-Year Habits’ Not ‘New Years Resolutions’

“New Year, new me.” “This year I’m going to smash it.” “20XX is my year!”

I see the same statements annually across various social media platforms. The New Year is a time where many people start goal setting and thinking about how amazing their next 12 months will be. By mid-January or early February most people have given up on their grand vision and settled in to their old daily routines. Those who achieved some weight loss are back up to their old weight and those who planned out a new venture have put their notepad back in the drawer.

Stop me if these New Year resolutions sound familiar; ‘go to the gym’, ‘start a new business’ ‘spend more time with friends and family’ or even ‘double my salary’. They’re fantastic goals but most of us don’t map out the behaviours needed to get there. We make bold predictions but we don’t make our new actions automatic. This is why research suggests that less than 10% of all resolutions are successful [Prof. John C. Norcross]

Aristotle once said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

According to Charles Duhigg 40% – 45% of our life is made up of our habits. Nearly half your day is on auto-pilot, learning to hack this time and create productive habits will change your life.

Let’s look at what you can do to be in the minority, actually achieve your resolutions and reach your goals!

How to make new habits;

  1. Start Small

We have a tendency to try and change everything at once. A lot of my friends are taking part in ‘Dry January’, so as well as quitting booze cold turkey for a month they’re trying to change their eating habits, lose weight, cut down on social media and sort out their finances, among other things. Get specific on one change you want to make; we can come back to number two on the list when we have the first handled.

James Clear in his book Atomic Habits talks about breaking your goal down into smaller behaviours. ‘Get healthy’ is a massive ask but ‘Take the stairs at work every day’ is much more achievable. ‘Read more’ is huge. ‘Commit to reading a page per day’; we can do. Once we have these small habits nailed we can build on them over the long term.

  1. Develop Triggers

You can decide to meditate every morning but if this is a totally new practice for you there’s a good chance you’ll wake up, get into auto-pilot and totally forget. The best way to make it stick is to link a new habit to an existing one (James Clear calls this habit stacking). Instead of saying ‘I’ll meditate in the morning’ say; ‘After I clean my teeth, I’ll meditate’. It’s specific and will help you remember. Some people find a physical prop helpful, so write ‘meditate’ on to a post-it note and stick it on the bathroom mirror. This will help you tie the action of meditation following your teeth cleaning.

You can also get rid of a bad habit by removing the trigger. Let’s say you’re spending too much cash each month. First work out when and where you’re over-spending. What is the trigger? Often we develop bad habits when we’re bored. So if you hop on your phone during down time and start buying retro teapots on eBay, delete the eBay app from your phone and find something else to occupy yourself with. As you reach for your phone on auto-pilot and realise eBay has disappeared this will wake you up, use this as the cue to read a page of a book, call a loved one or to work on any one of your goals! (This works well with all social media apps)

 

  1. Reward

Our brains are consistently looking for cues that will initiate a behaviour which will end with a ‘reward’. Every habit exists because we receive a neurochemical reward following the behaviour. If it wasn’t rewarding, why else would we smoke cigarettes or binge Netflix?

Most people would prefer good habits that make their life better. The problem is humans are wired for comfort, to conserve as much of the brain’s energy as possible. This means that while our rational brain tells us to eat healthy foods, exercise more and work harder our emotional brain knows that junk food is delicious, sitting on the sofa is easy and procrastination is fun. What feels good is seldom what’s best for you. This is why our motivation can get us to the gym for the first few weeks but if it’s a chore each time we’ll almost certainly reach a breaking point and give up. Research shows that it takes 66 days on average before a new behaviour becomes automatic and it can take up to 254 days. I think the main reason people don’t keep resolutions is that they don’t see instant results and so they don’t tie rewards to their new behaviours.

I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy taking a cold shower. It’s always going to suck. The way I’ve managed to keep this up for 90% of the last year is by rewarding myself. After a minute of cold I turn the dial to hot and holy shit, instant reward! If I ever get straight into a hot shower I feel like I’m cheating, it feels wrong; I have to earn the temperature increase!

Writing is a new habit for me. I write every day and am usually working on two or three blog ideas at a time. I have a very simple process of moving a completed piece over to a folder of ‘Finished work’. Every time I write I know I’m heading towards the ultimate pay off of committing my words to the folder, which means they’ll soon be heading out into the world. It’s such a small ritual, but it’s enough to keep me coming back every day.

 

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I hope you found this useful. If you’d like to deep dive into the world of habits I highlyrecommend James Clear’s book ‘Atomic Habits’ which I referenced a couple of times in this post.

My main takeaway from the book was; never miss twice. I take a cold shower every morning; I’m really disciplined about it. On the rare occasions that I miss a day I always make sure, whatever happens; that I don’t miss a second day in a row. I apply this to all habits I’m cultivating, one miss is a red flag and prompts me to get right back to it the next day.

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