LIFEHACKER (Jan 4, 2011) – It’s that time of year when we all start to make “New Year’s resolutions”, which is a fancy way of saying we’ll try forming better habits. Here are a few tips to make sure they stay habits beyond the month of January.
Often, our New Year’s resolutions are us promising ourselves we’ll form good habits this year: whether it’s something big like “I’m going to eat better” or “I’m going to keep my computer backed up” to “I’m going to actually start flossing every day”. So often, though, these habits end up dying off pretty quickly. Here are a few ways to make sure your resolutions become habits and don’t become another resolution in the garbage.
Make Sure Your Life is In Order
While there’s a certain charm to the “no better time than now” idea behind forming good habits, the fact of the matter is that your willpower is limited. Psychology Today recommends waiting until your life is in order (at least somewhat) before forming a new habit. If stressed, working on some other form of personal growth, or otherwise not in a normal daily routine, you’ll find it much harder to keep up with a good habit.
Focus on One Good Habit
We won’t sugarcoat it for you: forming good habits can be tough. Habits are something that are deeply ingrained in our behavior, which is why quitting a bad habit is so hard. Similarly, starting up a good habit is going to take a lot of work and conditioning before it becomes something automatic. If you try to take on too much at once, you are probably setting yourself up for failure. So focus on just one good habit for now—even if it’s a small one—and move on to the others later.
Work Yourself Into it Gradually
While your goal may be to end up doing something every day (like, say, exercising), it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to reach that goal right out of the gate. It’s going to take time and willpower to condition yourself, so don’t beat yourself up if you miss days at the beginning. Start ramping up that good habit gradually for a more successful habit forming.
Part of this is setting goals for yourself. If you can set a different goal, say, each week, you can motivate yourself without getting overwhelmed. Try exercising just two or three days the first week, then set a slightly higher goal for the next week, and so on. As you get more used to the act of exercising during the day, it’ll become easier for you to work toward your end goal of working out every day.
Piggyback it With Other, Already-Formed Habits or Routines
eHow notes that a really great way to help yourself remember to do certain things is to “piggyback” them with other habits or routines you already have. Say you want to start flossing daily. Flossing is one of those habits that we neglect more often because we forget, rather than us just being lazy. Put the floss in a conspicuous place by your toothbrush, and every time you brush your teeth, grab the floss and do a quick run-through. Similarly, if you want to start taking vitamins, stick the bottle in your coffee mug so every time you go to make your coffee in the morning, you can pop your multivitamin for the day.
Get an Accountability Buddy
We’ve talked about this before, and it’s an oldie but a goodie: get a buddy to help you stay accountable. Motivating yourself to go to the gym every day or start eating better can be difficult when you’re on your own, but if you have someone else around with whom you can exercise or eat with often, you’re more likely to keep up with those activities.
Stick With It for 21 Days
When you decide on that final goal, it can seem a bit overwhelming (“I want to exercise every day…for the rest of my life“). Once you turn a resolution into a habit, though, things are going to get a lot easier, and research shows it shouldn’t take that long. It takes about 21 days for a habit to form, so as long as you keep up your motivation, set your gradual goals, and kept up that resolution for three or four weeks, the hard part’s probably over. That habit’s now ingrained in your brain to the point where remembering it and being motivated to do it has become automatic instead of something you need to force yourself to do. This doesn’t mean quit trying after 21 days, of course—it’ll still probably take a bit of work—but if you’re feeling discouraged at any point in the process, it’s a good thing to aim for, knowing that in just a few weeks it’ll be a bit less difficult.
— Whitson Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org