Have you fallen prey this year to the perennial temptation of setting New Year’s resolutions? Do you successfully reach the ones you set each year? Or have you decided that resolutions are not for you, that you’ll have to find some other way to create positive shifts in your life that are not bound to the change of the calendar?
One way to buck the resolution trend is to build new habits. While not as tempting, and not nearly as dramatic as the all-or-nothing thinking behind the willpower-based trendy resolution, creating new habits are far more effective and may provide you with the permanent solutions you desire.
Steps to creating a new habit
1. Get clear and specific about what you want to achieve.
Perhaps you want to get in shape, eat healthier, lose weight, quit smoking, go to bed earlier, spend more time with your kids, or start doing yoga. These are vague goals. See if you can find some measurable way to be able to tell if you’re meeting those goals. New habits are about creating process goals, such as “I will do cardio exercise 3 times a week for 30 minutes” or “I will attend one yoga class a week and do 20 minutes of yoga at home twice a week” or “I will eat a piece of fruit in the afternoon and fill half my dinner plate with vegetables each night.”
2. Chunk it up. Be patient. You’re building something – this is going to take some time!
This is where it falls apart for many people. Impatience drives our quick-fix society. We want it all and we want it now. Many people go for intense change, hoping that will get them the permanent results they want. Unfortunately, this is often a recipe for failure.
While the short-term goal may be achieved by doing something extreme such as a super-intense boot-camp, crash diet or going cold turkey from smoking, unless you stick with that level of intensity, the results you achieve will be short-lived. There’s a high likelihood that even if you are able to keep that high pace, eventually you’ll get to the point of burn out. This kind of all-or-nothing mindset is common and ends up undermining all of your hard work. As unsexy as it sounds, moderation is key here.
Take the goal you identified in the previous step and break it down to a series of smaller process goals. Make them so small that they may seem laughable to you. Little by little, you’ll build on these goals so that the new habit is created with the least amount of disruption and effort. For example, if your process goal is for yoga as mentioned above, the steps may look something like this:
- Find some videos/books and practice yoga poses for 5 minutes, twice a week.
- Add another 5 minutes to each of the 2 days, bringing it to 10 minutes, twice a week.
- Find out when and where you’d like to take your yoga class and add a home practice of 5 minutes during that time (in addition to the 2 – 10 minute sessions you’re already now doing regularly).
- Up the third time to 10 minutes.
- Add another 5 minutes to all three yoga days, bringing it to 15 minutes.
- Add another 5 minutes to the first two regular home yoga days, bringing them to 20 minutes.
- Now join up for your yoga class, and you’ve achieved your initial process goal!
It may sound tedious to do it in this slow format. Adding more bit by bit will result in achieving your end goal in the easiest fashion. The trick is to add each new step once you’re in the regular habit of the previous one. It may take 2 or more weeks per step, but you’ll be building something truly sustainable.
3. Review your new habit and make sure that it is realistic with respect to your time, energy and geography. Be sure to plan it into your schedule.
You have great intentions of beginning this new activity. Now you need to check with your schedule and plan in exactly, and I mean exactly, where and when you are going to do this. Is the gym next door or a 30 minute drive away? How will you fit that in with picking up the kids? Does your new habit mean you need to get up an hour early? Is that realistic for you given that you always go to bed late?
These are the kinds of things to consider when creating a plan to fit your new activity into your busy life. It’s of utmost importance not to neglect this important step.
3. Expect to fail and plan for it.
In an interesting article about building habits by Joel Gascoigne, he notes that there will always be times when we simply don’t do the thing to which we’ve committed. Many people throw in the towel at this point, feeling that if they don’t perfectly stick to their new routine, that they’ve failed and that there’s no point in continuing. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Actually missing the routine and getting back to it can be a powerful way of retraining ourselves to acknowledge that we can easily get back to the new habit. With each recurrence of falling off the horse and getting back on, we build inner confidence and trust in ourselves and our actions.
4. Clear your obstacles to doing it.
A huge challenge to creating new habits and change in general is that even though we believe the new thing is what we really want, there are forces behind the scenes that seem to lead us in the opposite direction. The unconscious drivers that keep old, unwanted behavior in place are more powerful than we realize! This is the source of self-sabotage and resistance.
What to do to combat these unconscious drivers? Energy therapies really help in this department. There is a process for clearing resistance and unconscious blocks to creating new habits that I’m including for you here. I and many others have used it numerous times with habits we have wanted to create with excellent success. It’s an easy 8 minute process that you do for 21 days. It’s a slightly adapted version of Sasha Allenby’s Field Clearing Technique.
Handout with example and tapping points: New Habit Building Exercise – pdf file
5. Find some accountability and/or support.
While this isn’t a necessary step to creating a new habit, it’s a useful one. Find an accountability buddy with whom you can check in daily or weekly. Depending on the habit, it may make it more fun too.
I hope that you’ll consider trying this method for building new habits and that in doing so, you’ll create permanent positive healthy changes in your life. I’d love to hear your feedback, questions and successes in the comments below.