We’ve all tried to make resolutions and as humans, we’ve all failed at them, yet every year New Year’s rolls around and we trot out the hats and horns and some new resolutions we are determined to stick to. The problem with making resolutions is that they don’t work and by setting them we often set ourselves up for failure and the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame and disappointment.
I’m here to let you off the hook and give you some hard science to toss at those people who tell you that you just need more resolve or better will-power.
All that stuff is useless.
It’s not about having better willpower or setting you mind to something, it’s all about habit building and that requires actions, not thoughts or willpower.
Feel more relaxed? Good… let’s get started.
There are 3 key parts to every habit you have, whether it’s brushing your teeth or eating too much chocolate. Every habit is built from the same blocks so we can use those same blocks to build new habit and reach new goals in our lives. The 3 parts to every habit are:
1. Trigger (what starts the behavior)
2. Behavior (the action itself)
3. Benefit (what you gain from that action)
In Positive Psychology we call this a “habit loop” and it’s how we function as humans. We do something and there’s a payoff and over time we associate the trigger for our actions with the payoff. So to create a new habit (what some people want to call a resolution), we need to start by tying the new habit to an existent habit or trigger. That is the first key to success.
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Here’s an example, let’s say you want to add 2 minutes of Mindfulness practice into your day. Start by sticking a piece of paper to your bathroom mirror that says “Mindful Practice while brushing teeth”. Now every time you brush your teeth in the morning you’ll be reminded of doing your 2 minutes of Mindfulness while you brush your teeth. That’s the key, right there! Tie the new habit to an old one until the new one takes hold. It doesn’t take long for your body and mind to connect brushing your teeth with 2 minutes of Mindfulness every morning. After 7 days it’ll be a more natural process and after 30 days it’ll be the foundations of a new habit.
What abut not doing something? How can we use this same technique to stop doing something? Same theory but slightly different action. when we are trying to avoid or stop doing something we need to replace the old with the new, and you want to make it as easy as possible to make the substitution and you want to lean heavy on the reward aspect.
Example- What if I want to stop having a beer after work everyday and instead go for a 30 minute run?
Step 1. Pair the New With the Old.
I need to pair the new habit with something I already do at the end of the day when I get home that feels relaxing. So for me it’s changing out of work clothes right when I get home.
Step 2. Stacking the Deck.
Instead of throwing a pair of jeans on, I’ll put on my running clothes. And to make it easier- I’ll have put them out where I can see them on the kitchen counter when I leave for work in the morning.
Step 3. Reward the New Habit.
When I get back I have a huge glass of water and write down a quick note on my fridge calendar about how I feel in that moment. Writing it where I can see the notes everyday makes it easer to track my rewards and my progress. (Truth be told I have also been know to put gold stars on my calendar for every day that I do the new habit. There’s something really powerful about seeing a whole 30 days worth of gold stars covering a month that keeps me smiling).
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“WHETHER IT’S GOLD STARS OR NOTES ABOUT HOW GOOD YOU FEEL OR SIMPLY STATING OUT LOUD AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF WHAT YOU JUST ACCOMPLISHED, MAKE THE REWARD A CELEBRATION OF THE NEW HABIT.”
The reward keeps us coming back for more, and the trigger or tie-in is what keeps us starting over every day.
It only takes 7 days to start training yourself into a new habit. 30 days later you will have built the foundations for a solid change for yourself and in keeping it up for 6 months? It’ll become pretty permanent.
Keep in mind that it’s a process, make it fun, make it silly and if you want extra stick-to-it-tive-ness… rope in a friend or two in for accountability for those first 30 days.