There’s a whole industry out there trying to convince you that the new year is the year of a new you. As they try to shove yearly planners down your throat and sign you up for a whole year of gym membership at a 50 % discount, it’s very easy to be carried by the wave. If you really think about it, they should verify the famous slogan to, “New Year New You with a More Famished Wallet.” Despite all that hype, only 8 % of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions – statistics which make one wonder why the 92 % even bother.
Making NY resolutions tends to be more of a procrastination strategy than a personal development one. The idea that you’re supposed to wait for a certain time or date to begin something makes it easy to procrastinate on important life decisions. Decisions you know would make you slightly uncomfortable.
“I want to eat healthy, but maybe next year I’ll add it to my New Year’s Resolution list.”
“I want to read more, but maybe next year…”
So the obvious solution to that is to implement a good idea the day you hear it, regardless of whether it’s New Year’s Day or Mid-April or the end of November.
A resolution is like a promise you make to yourself. The main reason promises find themselves broken like new toys in the hands of a toddler, is because the mindset breaking it is different from the mindset making it.
On January 1, it’s very easy to be pumped up and excited about our resolutions because many people are talking about it. You write your resolutions about losing weight, eating healthy, spending less on a large sheet of paper. Come Day 30 and that paper acts as a coaster for your ice cream tub. So an alternative to making this promise to yourself and then disappointing yourself continuously is to take stock of your life right now, and work on fixing it one small habit at a time. It’s known that drastic changes are hard to make because of our habits. We can say that we want to lose weight but as long as the cue-routine-reward cycle exists in our brain (as explained in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit), it’s going to be tough.
So this is an alternative to making New Year’s Resolutions:
- Know thyself. Identify your habit cycles and start breaking them down. The Power of Habit is a highly recommended read for this particular step.
- Think in terms of forming habits instead of making individual goals. For instance, let’s say we want to lose 5 lbs this year; that’s a goal. We’ll always be in a state of disappointment until we reach that goal – that’s if we reach it. And as millennials we’re not so into long-term gratification. We want results like…yesterday! So instead of setting a goal that way, we can focus on making it a habit to take a thirty minute walk everyday or hit the gym three times a week. Taking that first step will help provide us with instant gratification, build our success spiral and all in all, make us feel good.
- Link habits together to build integrated systems. This needs some thinking and tinkering but basically the secret is to link new habits with long-established habits. So if you’re used to taking a nap in the afternoon, and you want to start doing sit-ups for instance, link the afternoon nap with the sit-up to maintain consistency. The moment you pile habits together and build a system, it becomes this behemoth giant that’s hard to slow down once started.
- Work from your personal values. I’ve written about this previously. A lot of times we just want to incorporate things into our lives because other people think it’s a good idea. But if it’s not a good idea for us on some deep personal level, then we’d lose traction faster than tires on black ice.
- Reduce the inertia. We’re not big fans of change so the hardest part of starting anything is overcoming that initial inertia. Sometimes one needs to think of ways to reduce the inertia, for instance in the gym case, some people keep their gym clothes ready the night before so they can launch into their workout routine as soon as they wake up.
- Experiment. Everybody’s system is going to be different and there’s no way of knowing what works for you until you experiment. Some people get stuck in the idea collection stage without executing anything but until we try we never know what’d work. The secret is to work on your own personal project and have fun doing so.
- Last but not least, just start! Today. Not tomorrow. Not January 1. Not May 25. Just start today.
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Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
Yesterday’s sunset was especially beautiful. Maybe it’s because I took a break from my screen to actually notice it. But then I tried to capture it using my iphone, but the image never really matched the beauty I saw with my eyes. After multiple attempts at playing with the image using Snapseed, the best I could get was this…
Which made me think of something my friend once said about how today’s technology-savvy people need to stop experience things through the lens of their cameras and smartphones. The experience is never the same. As mentioned in the last post, you have that distortion thing and this time it’s because you decide to let your phone’s sensors do what your own senses are supposed to do. And that leads to the experience’s degradation.
So here’s a question for you; is your first instinct capturing the image or living the experience fully? Leave your response in the comments section below.
If picking up and maintaining new good habits were easy, those habits would already be in our lives. Sometimes it’s really hard to reprogram our auto-pilot systems and replace them with new habits. Willpower alone doesn’t always work, so if you’re scared you’d return to old habits, below are a few tips to consider.
1) Use ‘Loss aversion’ to your advantage. Loss aversion theory suggests that the pain of losing a dollar is more than the pleasure of acquiring one. So let’s say, you make a promise that every time you return to your bad habit, you’re going to give out a dollar. For some people, that might be enough to make them stop.
While the idea is appealing, if the dollar is given away for a good cause, it is easy to mentally ‘win’ in both situations. If you don’t return to your habit, you don’t lose the dollar. If you do return to your old habit, you give the dollar away to charity (which is not so bad). That would render this method useless in controlling your habits. Some popular authors, like Chris Bailey author of “New Year’s Resolutions Guideline” suggest that you give the money to a cause you don’t like so it would feel like a punishment and make you stop.
2) Make plans around inflection points; points where the temptation to quit is strongest. This was mentioned before in this blog but I shall reiterate. In his book, ‘The Power of Habits’ Charles Duhigg writes about a study to find out the type of people who were mostly likely to fail in rehabilitation after undergoing hip or knee surgery. The participants were given a booklet with details of the rehab schedule, and blank spaces after “My goals for this week are….” They found out that patients who recovered more quickly were those who filled their booklets with plans, and their plans focused on how they would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. The idea was also covered in Psyblog, ”Make a very specific ‘if-then’ plan.” Anticipate weak points in the plan where you could fail and make detailed plans around that.
Inflection points could appear when your daily schedule is disrupted like when you travel for holidays. It’s very easy to quit new habits and relapse to old habits since it’s “Just for one month.” So it is imperative that people plan ahead.
3) Peer pressure is a very powerful force that always gets blamed for bad habits. So why don’t we use it to reinforce good habits? Let’s say your resolution is to read one book per month. You could join a monthly book club, and that commitment could push you to read. Alternatively, just have a virtual reading partner you could discuss a particular book with every months.
The most important thing to remember is that breaking out of old habits is difficult. Habits form neural pathways in your brain and restructuring them is no easy feat. So if you ever fall back into your old habits, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, learn to forgive yourself.
Feel free to leave your comment below and share with your friends.
In the book, The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg talks about the habit loop, which is like a computer code that starts with the 1)Cue, then moves to the 2)Habit and ends with the 3)Reward. Craving for the reward keeps the code running in an infinite loop, until you reprogram it or break it.
I’ve mentioned all that in a previous note, but an interesting thing the author mentions is how making significant changes in life doesn’t require conscious reprograming of dozens of habit codes. Some habits are more important than others and are called “keystone habits.” Making changes in these keystone habits initiate changes in other subroutines in your other habits code, so for non-programmers, it’s like dropping the first tile in a dominos game, causing other tiles to drop and changing habits in other areas of a person’s life.
One keystone habit is “Exercise”. Duhigg writes, “People who exercise start eating better and become more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed.”
So with experience one could learn what habits are keystone habits in their lives and focus on those primarily.
Until then I guess we should start exercising ;-).