How to Make Your New Year Resolutions Stick with Habits
We know how the New Year goes: the renewed gym membership, the snazzy planner filled with goals, and the vow that “This will be my year!” (If nothing else, fingers crossed for fewer pimples) At one point or another, we all fall into the trap of making resolutions that are far-reaching or nearly impossible to achieve. It’s natural, you probably felt obligated or even motivated to make one. Albeit, from friends, family, or frenemies. It might have been from someone who insulted you, channeling you to do better. Whatever it may have been, we need to make these declarations stick with habit-forming strategies.
Depending on what it is, it might require more or less effort and motivation. However, all resolutions have three things in common. These are well-thought-out plans, consistency, and progress. Without these, it is simply a wish or a fleeting thought, a nice to have, but you won’t actually do it yourself. Let’s say that your resolution is to have clearer and brighter skin. As we all know from experience, clearer skin requires a dedicated beauty regime. That means you have a set process or plan, a time period of when it has to be performed, and over that set time period, see the results, if any. Simple, isn’t it?
Well, it might not be that straightforward. That is why micro habits, small, tiny or atomic habits, whatever you may call it, they are key when making goals. This principle means that changes, even so slight, can snowball into bigger ones over time. Think of your life as an example. The decisions you make, the things you do on a regular basis, it all comes down to habits. Why do you think successful people are successful? Because they have habits and behaviors that form who they are now. More notably, a study conducted in 1972 by psychologist Walter Mischel, a Stanford University professor, called the Marshmallow Experiment. The experiment studied the behavior of children 4 and 5 years old, where the researchers would give one marshmallow to a subject (the child), but make a deal with the children. If the researchers come back and the marshmallow is still intact, they would give the children another marshmallow. On the other hand, if the marshmallow was gone, they would not give them another marshmallow. Even after the experiment, the researchers followed up on the children through adulthood. Long story short, the children who waited for the researcher to come back had a better chance for success. In any situation, they would delay their gratification for further gain and improvement.
Fast-forward to 2013, researchers at the University of Rochester decided to replicate the marshmallow experiment. But, with two modifications, they would break the children into two groups, and instead of making a deal with the children, one group would get reliable information from the researcher and the other would not. Not surprising, the group with unreliable information would eat the marshmallow, while the group with reliable information would wait. This experiment expanded the marshmallow experiment by changing the external environment. Those with positive experiences, would be reinforced that delaying their gratification is a good idea, while those who didn’t would not and would rather have instant gratification.
With all said and done, what does this have to do with habits? In fact, a lot. If you think about it for a moment, to form good habits, you need positive reinforcement, since most bad habits or unhealthy habits are easy to stick to but hard to fix. Conversely, good habits need a bit more effort, but stick. That is where micro habits come into play. Micro habits allow you to do the minimum amount of work to eventually get to the green. As the adage goes, “It’s always greener on the other side.” For example, it’s similar to a random person on the street becoming the CEO of a major fortune 50 company. It is unheard of, but most of all, they wouldn’t know what to do. But with micro habits, you are getting to the other side. With small gains, it makes it easier to adopt good habits.
Put into perspective, start out with one thing that you do routinely. Can it be modified or altered a bit? For example, instead of going on the subway to work, walk part way. Or maybe what is the minimum you would consider doing? It could be anything. For example, exercising. What are the minimum pushups or reps you would do? In my exercise routine, 5 pushups are my minimum. Is that enough to see any results? Probably not, but it is better than not doing it at all. Plus, sometimes, you’ll feel ridiculous only doing 5 pushups, that you’ll want to do some more. Progress over perfection. Habits are not only the things you do, but your behavior as a whole. That is why micro habits are a great way to build up good habits.
Have you ever had your boss give you advice about life? The point of this is whatever habits you make, are from your experiences, as well as, behaviors that come to adapt to the situation. I remember what my first boss said, “Try not to work in retail, customer support, or sales”. I took that to heart. But others, such as, “be always the first one in and the last one out.” and your time is your most important asset. Time, meaning, your goals, work, and personal life. If anything interferes with your goals, avoid it. As well as, only say things in facts. You have too much time to be with people. Things will be brought up eventually. So, keep it factual. This was advice in regard to the death of a family member or a close friend, but it can really be applied to other aspects of life.
The basic premise is, good habits are formed by positive reinforcement, behavior, and the decisions you make. Going a little deeper, the goals you make, the challenges you face, and the will power to strive through adversity. If you choose audacious goals, it’ll be a long way up a cliff. Rather, have realistic goals that slightly surpass your arms reach. But, then get to the next stage after you’ve mastered that attainable goal.
Note, good habits might be hard at first, but they are lasting habits that stick with you. For example, waking up early, having a morning routine, and having even better work habits.
Journaling involves many skills. For instance, writing, organization, and critical thinking, to name just a few. Journaling is one of the best ways to see your progress. Think of yourself as a historian, and your journal(s) as a record of your progress and accomplishments. How are you going to do this? Well, one should always have a numerical goal in mind if possible. After that, track your progress. It doesn’t have to be so meticulous, especially when starting out, since it might be overwhelming. We don’t want you to stop because of that. But, at the same time, it is important to address the key moments in your life. This might give you further insight on what made you go that extra mile, while in other instances, you usually don’t.
Start out by writing in the third person. When just jotting things down. This will separate you from the emotions and subjectivity that block your ability to make sound decisions. It’s similar to when you are asked for advice, you listen to the problem, and think of what you would do. It’s important to address things in this manner, since you can’t control others, but you can definitely control some aspects of your life. Maybe not all, but surely some.
It is also important to be organized and write summaries of your day, week, month and year. This will allow you to get a bird's eye view of your progress as well as save time writing the summaries. Chances are, you won’t have time to go through a year's worth of entries. Maybe a week, but definitely not a month, and certainly not a year. Your journal is also a way to see what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, skin products are not meant to be one size fits all, even if brands want them to be. The benefit of journaling is, when you have a goal in mind, it allows you to look back and recall the products that gave you a rash or just didn’t work for you.
Furthermore, it is also important to have strategies within each section. It isn’t time nor writer’s block that stifles, but rather, the inconsistency of what you are trying to convey. Having a clear objective of what to write about makes it easier to keep on having ideas of what to do next. Think of it like this, what did you do in the past that you want to fix, what are you doing currently to fix it, and what will you do to get to your goal in the future when that problem is fixed? Are there other steps involved?
Many people don’t understand what meditation is, including me years ago. But, once you have an idea of what it is, and does without the fillers, the benefits become clear. Think of meditation as a way to shift your focus from your current situation to the present. By this, I mean, when you’re stressed, and can’t make rational decisions, meditation allows you to escape reality, and shift your focus on the broader picture. Basically, it identifies the immediate environment. Are you in danger? Will you be in danger if you don’t get this done right now, this very second? Understanding that you have time to think and figure everything out eventually is lethargic.
This is not a one-off practice, it involves time. Your mileage may vary, but usually, within two months, you’ll see results. At least for me, it took about a month. Why is meditation good for making goals stick? Well, the main benefit that meditation has is that it reduces stress and depression. With these two in hand, your motivation just peters out. Meditation gives you the will power to be able to do what you want. After that, it is all on you. This is why the mind, body, and wellness have to be aligned or balanced. But, on the plus side, once you get the hang of it, less stress equals fewer acne breakouts in most cases.
No matter what New Year’s resolution you may be, an audacious goal is not the best to start out with. It isn’t very attainable. Choose a realistic goal that can be measured, and then reached with some effort, but not too much, since more times than none, people tend to peter out. Build out on your smaller accomplishments and then start to grow. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so nor should your goals be unattainable to start with. Keep those larger goals tucked away for later, as a reminder that you are doing all this for that ultimate result. And don’t forget to measure, and write it down in your journal. When you look back, you’ll see how much or little you have improved. But, don’t fret about the little stuff, you can iterate throughout! But, don’t overwhelm yourself with things that you can’t handle. If that happens, meditate! That’s all, and hope you have a great year to come!
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