We’re officially one week into 2020 - how are things going? Did you set resolutions? What about goals? And are you making progress on these things?
While it may seem (or at least in my circles) that setting New Year’s Resolutions has fallen out of favour with many, approximately half the population of America still sets them. Shocking, I know. And can you guess the percentage of folks who bail on their resolutions? A staggering 80%.
Given these numbers, why on earth do people keep repeating the antiquated practice of setting resolutions, only to feel frustrated and disappointed a mere few weeks later, often returning to old behaviours after not seeing results?
The practice of resolutions speaks to the collective, underlying urge of wanting to be better, to grow, to change, to improve upon ourselves and ultimately, create more satisfying, fulfilling lives for ourselves. Resolutions are steeped in positivity, promise and possibility, which excites people.
I should say that when it comes to positivity, wanting to create change in our lives and propel ourselves closely to the life we want to live, I’M HERE FOR IT!
And resolutions are not the best way to get there. Let me tell you why:
1) Resolutions are riddled with shame. Resolutions have become shorthand for us to review our lives, identify the things we hate about ourselves and craft wild fantasies about how the new year will be different and all the things we hate will magically disappear. When you’re looking to make change in your life, get clear on why you’re wanting the change to begin with. If it’s rooted in shame, try to figure out why and spend some time there first. Starting from a place of shame won’t serve you and if/when you don’t get the outcome you’re banking on, your shame will likely be compounded with feelings of failure and guilt, which is a terrible mental and emotional cocktail.
2) Resolutions aren’t typically realistic nor do they take into account that creating massive, sustainable change takes time and usually a plan. Most people don’t decide that they’re going to permanently ditch a behaviour or pattern in favour of a newer, better option and stick to it without a solid plan.
3) Resolutions aren’t rooted in our values and priorities. For example, if you have a resolution to be at the gym every morning at 6am, 5 days a week BUT the mornings are your best cuddle time with your partner/pet/SO/kids and you highly value that cuddle time, the chances that you’re going to stop doing something you value in favour of something that you don’t (as much) are pretty low.
So now that we’re clear on some of the reasons why resolutions just don’t work for folks, let’s talk about what actually works in creating change.
Ready for it?
If you are looking to create lasting, sustainable change in your life and in your future, you need to focus on your daily habits. Period.
Yep, I said habits. Sexy, right?
Our daily habits shape our entire lives so if you can get a handle on your habits - both recognizing the ones that serve you, eliminating the ones that don’t and creating new ones that move you closer to where you want to go - you can create lasting, meaningful change in your life. At least 40% of our daily actions are driven by habits which is why it’s very important to take a look at what habits are serving you and moving you closer to where you want to go.
I love habits! In case you missed it, I’m a habit change expert (quite literally, both through years of experience and success in my life and through extensive training) so when it comes to habits, I know some stuff.
Habits are behaviours that have been repeated so many times that they’ve become automatic in our lives. Every single habituated behaviour (or thought) in our lives moves through what James Clear calls “The Habit Loop” every time it’s executed.
The Habit Loop consists of 4 phases which include the cue (something that starts the habituated behaviour - a time, location, event, etc.), the craving (the motivational force behind a behaviour), the response (the actual habit being performed which could be an action or a thought) and the reward (delivered by the response and the end goal of every habit). In order for behaviours to become automated, all 4 phases of the habit loop must be satisfied. If you are building a new habit and you’re missing a phase, chances are the habit won’t stick.
When you’re looking to break a new habit, pay close attention to the habit loop around that habit - what triggers the habit to start? What’s motivating it? What’s the reward? Removing an element or two of the habit loop will support you in dismantling existing habits that you’d like to eliminate.
Instead of lofty, unrealistic resolutions that aren’t in line with your life’s values and priorities, take a very close look at your daily habits and see what you can do to create change at the level of habit. What I love about habits is that they are learned behaviours which means a) they can be unlearned if we’re looking to ditch them and b) new habits can be learned at any point.
Here are 5 tips to get you started with habit change:
1) Make your new habit(s) appealing and satisfying. For example, if you want to exercise more but the thought of going to the gym makes you cringe, pick a form of movement that you enjoy and go from there. If you’re stumped on this, start by thinking about you liked doing as a kid.
2) If you are wanting to add some new habits into your life, try habit stacking. This is when you piggyback your new habit onto an older, established one. For example, if you’re hoping to increase your water intake, put a glass or water bottle in your bathroom so you can start your day with water after brushing your teeth. I’m assuming most of us have habituated teeth brushing in our lives so this would be a great opportunity to stack your new habit (drinking more water) on top of your old one (brushing your teeth).
3) Schedule your new habits wherever possible. I live by my calendar and I find the visual cue of seeing an event in my calendar serves as powerful trigger to start the new habit loop. I also find that if I don’t schedule something, its way less likely to get done. If you’re the same, put your new habit in your calendar ASAP.
4) Keep it simple. If you over-complicate your new habits, they will immediately become less appealing and you’ll be less likely to do it.
5) Be patient. Change takes time. The experts agree that new habits take, on average, 66 days to form (of course, depending on the habit in question and the person) so give yourself permission to take it day by day. Change doesn’t happen overnight and that’s okay. Decide what you want and move towards it, consistently, simply, day after day and before you know it, you new habit will be ingrained and rather than having to focus on it, it’ll just be a part of your life. That’s how habits work.
Focusing on your daily habits is not nearly as “sexy” as setting wild, fantastical resolutions (that 80% of us don’t achieve, anyway). I get that. But it’s alllll about the dailys so if you are serious about creating change in your life, your habits need to be where you put your focus, energy and attention. You have the capacity to change your life and by focusing on your habits, you don’t need to wait until January 1st (or some other arbitrary day of the year); you can start NOW. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier tonight. Schedule a date with your best friend. Drink your water. Make more food at home. Keep it simple, stay on track and your life will change. I promise you.