I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions because I don’t know why we feel compelled to wait for a certain starting day to begin being the people we want to be. However, I realize this is a widespread tradition so I’m posting this article today when many people will commit to forming new, good habits. If you follow these tips, you won’t be asking “what resolutions?” come February. Instead, you’ll be so pleased with how you’ve bettered your life that you’ll tackle another good habit goal.
Although I spout a lot of my own opinions, when it comes to behavior change, I rely on the experts. I don’t want someone’s opinion about how to permanently change my behavior, I want empirical evidence so that I know it will work. These tips for habit development are based on scientific research, not my random ramblings. If you follow these guidelines, you will be successful in changing your behavior.
Choose ONE New Habit
When you decide to build a better you, it’s tempting to tackle all areas of your life at once: relationships, health, career, etc. Studies show that individuals who focus on a single behavior change meet their goals faster and enjoy better long-term success than those who tackle multiple goals at once.
Make a Plan and Write it Down
Even if you never look at it again, writing down your goals is an essential step in achieving them. First of all, it forces you to think about exactly what you want to achieve. Second, it compels you to create a plan for meeting your goals. Third, this process of defining your goals and designing a course of action helps you visualize your transformation which is a proven technique in successful habit formation.
Since your intention is to develop a lifelong habit, don’t sabotage your success by sprinting out of the starting gate. If your goal is to exercise every day for 30 minutes, only commit to exercising for 5 minutes a day. It’s much easier to convince yourself to make time to exercise for 5 minutes than it is to motivate yourself for a half hour workout and chances are that once you get started, you’ll work out longer anyway. Psychologically, you won’t feel defeated since you’ve set your goal so low, and thus, easily achievable.
Link New Habits to Existing Ones
The problem with new habits is that they’re new! Since we haven’t established the habit yet, a lot of times we simply don’t do it because we forget it. Want to start flossing every day? Leave the floss on the counter next to your toothbrush. When I reviewed Prevagen (the memory pill) I had to set the bottle of pills right next to the coffee maker, which is my first stop in the kitchen each morning. When I reviewed the Ageless Derma skin brightener, I left the container on my bathroom counter so I saw it first thing in the morning and last thing at night and thus, never forgot to apply it.
Use If-Then Planning
If-then planning is a proven technique in developing new habits. You can use it in three ways. First, you can use it to link a new habit to an existing one (see above as to why that works). For example, if I have coffee in the morning, then I will eat a piece of fruit. Second, you can use it to motivate yourself to perform your new habit or excuse yourself without sacrificing your goals (e.g. If I am too tired to go for a walk, I will do 100 jumping jacks instead). Finally, you can use it to reward yourself which is a highly effective motivation strategy that allows you to celebrate your success and enjoy a reward. For example, if I sweep the kitchen floor every day this week, then I will enjoy a bubble bath Saturday night.
Don’t Assign a Deadline
I know a lot of people have heard the theory that if you do something consistently for 21 days (or 30 days or 60 days), it will become a habit. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but the research doesn’t support it. Each person is different. While it’s true that some people might form a lifelong habit after daily practice for a month, some people take up to a year and the average is actually 6 months. The point of developing a new habit is to make a permanent change in your life, so choosing an arbitrary date in the future at which point you will have considered yourself successful is pointless. Instead, view each day that you perform the habit as a success and take your eyes off the calendar.
Count on Peer Pressure
We are social creatures so it matters to us a lot what other people think. If you REALLY want to stick to your new habit, publicize your goal. Tell your friends and family. Create an online log of your progress. Join a group of individuals with similar goals. Your peers will encourage and motivate you, and the pressure of their expectations will help keep you on task even when your stamina is waning.
Minimize Decision Making
Several studies have shown that decision making is a mentally tiring endeavor. Having too many choices can be demotivating. If you’ve ever gone grocery shopping with coupons and had to spend 5 minutes determining the best value on cereal, you understand this phenomenon. Tackling a new habit takes mental and physical energy so you want to save as much of it as possible. Look at the other areas of your life and simplify as much as possible. Instead of spending hours coming up with an innovative meal plan and then grocery list each week, come up with a two-week rotation of meals. Yes, this may be boring, but you’ll be saving time, energy, and stress. Likewise, establish two weeks of outfits and stop wasting time deciding what to wear each day.
Don’t Abandon Ship When You Make a Mistake
Dieters are familiar with this phenomenon. After weeks of sticking to a strict diet, you slip up and binge on dessert. “Well, I’ve blown the diet, might as well enjoy myself” is what many of us say at this point and then we’re so disappointed in ourselves for losing control, we console ourselves with more food, convinced we’re failures when it comes to dieting. To combat this self-sabotage, keep a running total of your number of success days and DON’T restart it if you slip up—just don’t count the slip up day in your total. If you focus on the 87 days you succeeded in eating right, instead of the one day you weren’t perfect, it’s easier to stay on track. By the way, research shows that missing an occasional day doesn’t significantly impact habit development so you really aren’t undoing all of your hard work when you make a mistake.