We’re almost two months into 2019, do you know where your New Year’s Resolutions are? According to a two-year longitudinal study by the University of Scranton, almost 80% of those who vowed to do better in the new year gave up on the idea after a week. Hell, if you’re like me you maybe you gave up on some good habits – such as, you know, updating this blog – before the new year even started.
So how do you (re)build those good habits and maintain them?
Slips, Trips and Falls Happen
So, you flaked out on a goal. Afterward, you likely beat yourself up over your lack of willpower and maybe even decided you weren’t cut out for better things. But, according to the University of Scranton study, occasionally slacking off is not only natural, it’s part of the process of achieving a goal. The 20% of individuals who had maintained their pledges for at least two years slipped up, on average, 14 times.
Instead of agonizing over falling off the wagon, think of it as a teachable moment. Our mistakes are often more illuminating than our successes. As such, 75% of those who continued working toward their goal after a slip reported the lapse as a learning experience that strengthened their resolve.
It Matters Why it happened
Even though you should shake off the fact you slipped up, it’s important to be mindful of why it happened in the first place. By finding the trigger, you can recognize it for what it is and learn to either avoid or mitigate its impact.
According to the University of Scranton study, the most common reasons for slips were stress, negative emotions associated with the goal and feeling a lack of willpower. Personally, I would add giving into distractions and the curve balls life sometimes throws at you. For me, the stress of the holidays factored into my hiatus from writing as did back-to-back colds. I don’t feel guilty about needing a break due to either of those circumstances. However, I also know that I indulged my distractions, for example binge watching several series, a bit too heartily.
The point is sometimes you need a break and working on a goal is not an all-or-nothing prospect. It is important, however, to be mindful that you are slowing your progress and to put a definitive time limit on those distractions you have control over.
Recognize what serves you
It feels like there are not enough hours in the day to do everything we want. It feels that way because, well, we don’t. That’s why, speaking of distractions, it’s essential to recognize what habits serve you well versus those that don’t. As I said, in looking back over the past few months, as my time spent writing diminished, don’t you know quality time with my Roku expanded.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that and there is a place for it in my schedule. That place, however, is sparingly. Because while it may be enjoyable, it doesn’t commensurately give back to me for the time I spent doing it. Working on this blog, on the other hand, is not easy. However, the return on investment is priceless through the skills it is helping me build in time management, researching, learning, writing and editing. Therefore, it’s essential for it to take precedence in my schedule.
Keep the first step back small and don’t overthink it
As someone who was once obese, I can’t tell you how many times I told myself, “I’ll start my diet Monday.” It was also usually accompanied by a punishing workout routine and scarcely enough calories to nourish a small child. It failed every time.
When you have the impulse to change, follow through in the moment in whatever way you can. Don’t wait until some hypothetical perfect start date. It will either never arrive or your motivation will wain in the meantime. Furthermore, make those first steps toward your goal manageable and, dare I say, kind to yourself. You’re starting an exciting new journey or getting back to one; not atoning for your sins.
Expect and Celebrate Awkwardness
I knew even before I started writing this post that it was not going to be one of my finest. I’m not beating myself up; it’s just what happens when you haven’t done something for a while. We rust. The same held true when I recently got back into lifting weights consistently after weeks of catch-as-catch-can workouts. I was sore as hell for days after. However, instead of resenting the soreness, I saw it as an accomplishment. My first workouts back weren’t the best, but I did them and, eventually, I found my old groove.
Make Yourself Accountable
When sticking to a goal, it’s necessary to feel like you have some skin in the game. One way to accomplish this is by telling friends and family your goals and a timeline of when you hope to accomplish them. It makes the goal more tangible in your mind and now there is the prospect that you will be asked about its progress. Another way is to be accountable to yourself by figuring out WHY your goal is actually important to you.
Perhaps you want to get out of debt. Can you articulate why that matters? Is it because you want to buy a house, travel more often or to have the peace of mind of not living paycheck-to-paycheck? When you clarify the WHY of your goals, it not only helps you see precisely what steps you need to take to achieve them, it makes it easier to share them with others. Building mutual excitement for your accomplishments will help you stay on track when the going inevitably gets tough.
Pick a manageable Schedule and Stick to It
This relates to the idea of taking small first steps to get back on track. For example, I wish I had the chops to publish lengthy posts three or more times a week. I don’t. Not yet, at least. So, for my reboot, I’ll be posting twice weekly. Mondays will be for topics involving self-improvement and on Thursdays I will post recipes.
Everyone has responsibilities beyond the goals they set for themselves and yes, also the need to just chill out now and again. By making a realistic schedule that sets time aside – thus creating a cue and a routine – for your goals, you’re cultivating the feedback loop needed to see them through.
Savor Your Accomplishment
To make good habits stick, it helps to understand what a habit is made of. In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg describes how habits consist of a neurological loop with 3 elements: a cue, a routine and a reward.
The loop begins with a cue such as a certain time of day. This cue triggers a routine – the behavior you want to change or adopt – which should yield a reward. So, while the rewards of long-term goal might be easy to visualize – for example, going from being sedentary to finish your first 5K – it’s more difficult to see the payoff in the short-term.
Furthermore, without the reward, the feedback loop necessary to build the habit never develops. Therefore, I find it helpful to breakdown long-term goals into a series of short-term goals. With each short-term goal I accomplish, whether I see results or not, I celebrate the very fact that I have been productive. Feel free to reward yourself any way you choose, but I find it most useful to reward myself in ways that don’t involve spending money or eating
Are you feeling inspired to get back into your good habits? What approaches do you use to get back on track? Tell me everything.