At the beginning of each year, many people start new year’s resolutions. We are going to stop drinking, stop smoking, drink more water, actually go to the gym, stop buying coffee, and maybe even get eight hours of sleep per night. We are going to create new habits and start the new year on a positive note.
I think it’s safe to say that we start with the best of intentions. We really want to make a habit of all of our resolutions. But when push comes to shove and real life kicks in, we often slip. It is so easy to sleep in and ditch the gym – especially after a long day at work. Or go to a party and just have one cocktail, even though we told ourselves no drinking this year.
The biggest issue is how to create a routine and stick to it. It isn’t about resolutions, per se. It is about how to make a habit when there wasn’t one there before. Here are some ideas for how to get a habit and stick to it.
1. Take the Action Daily
Whatever your new habit is, make sure that you’re committed to making this new habit a daily routine. Wake up and make the decision each and every day that you are going to keep the routine.
Doing something consistently every day to ensure you’re focused on making this new habit stick will keep your mind heading forward in the right direction. Don’t look at it as something you’ll do for the rest of your life, look at it as something you are going to do today. Tomorrow, decide that you are going to do it tomorrow.
Habits are created out of patterns, so if you dedicate yourself to the everyday pattern, you are much more likely to create a habit.
2. Make Simple Changes
While the resolution you have made might be a big goal to adjust to, it will be way easier to accomplish if you make a few simple changes. If your plan is to drink eight glasses of water every day, buy a shiny new water bottle that will help you measure it. Make sure that each day you have it washed and ready for the next.
If your plan is to get to the gym three times per week, tell yourself that you aren’t allowed to watch television/check social media/another consequence until you get there on your allotted days. Then hold yourself to it.
Do little things to help encourage yourself to keep up with the habit you are trying to create.
3. Create Personal Accountability
One of the best ways to make a new habit stick is by creating some accountability around you. The easiest way is by partnering with a friend or social media.
Every day that you accomplish your goal, report your success. Post it on Twitter or Facebook, report it to an accountability partner (a friend, your spouse – someone who won’t let you get away with not continuing) or jot it down in a journal that someone else looks at.
It is always good to hold yourself accountable, but if you do it alone, you are more likely to allow yourself to slip. If you really want to create a habit, you have to set yourself up for success. Sometimes that means including someone else who will know if you don’t do what you say you want to do. Making your journey public (even with one or two other people) ups the stakes so that you are less likely to lapse.
4. Choose a Trigger
Whether you are looking to quit smoking, wake up earlier or form some other habit in your life, it is very important that you create a trigger. You already have triggers that encouraged you to participate in the actions you are looking to change (maybe 10:30 is automatically smoke-break time or you always read until 11 pm, so 7 am is always wake-up time), so installing new ones is key.
If you are looking to quit smoking, think about going to the bathroom or to get a cup of coffee at 10:15 am every day so that you can help yourself miss that smoke-break window. If you always go to the same bar, sit at the same place and order a drink, try choosing a new seat as your trigger. At this seat you only have virgin drinks.
Creating new triggers is a great way to help yourself ease out of old patterns and into new ones.
5. Remove Temptations
Remember that bar that we just talked about? If you are trying to quit drinking, do you really have to go there?
Whatever this new resolution is, you will already be surrounding yourself with situations that will test your strength from the very beginning. You can’t help it, old patterns are tough to break. Every time you go to your local bar, you’ll want a drink. Every time you walk by that donut shop, you’ll want to go in and buy one. Every time you drive by your Starbucks drive-thru, you’ll want to go. This is all normal, human behavior, so it is up to you to help yourself.
Removing temptations isn’t a perfect art form, but do what you can. Find a new way to walk or drive home from work (even by a block or two) so that you can avoid your coffee and pastry temptations. If you took smoke breaks at work, don’t go to the area you used to smoke. Choose a new exit or time for leaving work. Clean your house of any alcohol/cigarettes/junk food, etc. so that you can count your home as a safe space for helping to create your habit.
You may have heard that people don’t break bad habits, they replace them with new habits. This is true! Don’t expect yourself to go cold turkey in quitting something or starting something and not feel some internal pushback. We are creatures of habit, so anything that you’ve done for a long while will be tough to replace, but it truly can be done.
Find ways to be strong when you are feeling weak and make sure that you have a support system outside of yourself. It would be great if just wanting to do something was enough, but having some accountability, triggers and small changes will make all the difference.