At the end of every year, I love to reflect on the prior months and acknowledge all the accomplishments I’ve made, where I may have stayed stuck, and how I envision moving “onward and upward” in the new year. January provides that metaphorical clean slate, the opportunity to start fresh with lessons learned and new ambitions to achieve. Over the years, I’ve learned that habits are a necessary element of successful achievement of any goal. However, it’s not always easy to build the habits that fuel success.
Any item on our “to-do” list requires energy, but the beautiful thing about habits is that they are naturally ingrained in us after a period of continuous repetition and a drain in energy becomes less of an obstacle. Not all habits become effortless of course, but there are trouble-shooting techniques for those times when you need an extra boost of motivation. So, how can you create the habits that could change your life?
“New Year’s resolutions” don’t usually stick because they don’t become habits. We pick those resolutions we always hear about; eat a low-carb diet, exercise five days a week, wake up extra early every morning, for example. But how do you know that will work for you? A lot of the time it won’t, so building self-awareness around what works for you and what doesn’t through trial and error is essential. Obviously, if you’re naturally a night owl, becoming an early-riser may not be one of your resolutions.
Take a step back and understand how even the seemingly insignificant habits can have a massive impact for you over time. For years, I wouldn’t make my bed or keep an empty kitchen sink every day, thanks to college. But as I got older, I started to realize the few times I did, I felt calmer. My world was a little less chaotic at the end of the workday. I started to do it daily and now I can’t leave my place without a made bed and a clean kitchen. It became part of my mindless getting-ready-in-the-morning routine. I come home and can sigh some relief that my place is straightened up and I’m ready to cook a healthy dinner in peace. It motivates me to cook a healthy dinner, rather than GrubHub from the nearest pizza place. Bigger picture, people!
Identify Your “Why”
Speaking of bigger picture, know WHY you want to change a habit or build a new one. Will it serve a greater purpose in your life? How will it help you achieve your long-term goals? How important is that to you? If it’s very important, write it down and post it on your fridge so you don’t lose sight of its bigger purpose. Waking up an hour earlier to get your workout in doesn’t sound like much so it’s easily skipped, but if you do it consistently and daily, the beneficial effects will compound over time. Your WHY is in the long-term, and yes, each day does matter.
Don’t Give Up
There’s no rule that New Year’s resolutions or intentions need to start on January 1st (and suddenly end in February…). Don’t feel like a “failure” if you discovered your resolutions don’t work for you, prompting you to just give up. Adjust your intentions accordingly and try, try, again, with compassionate patience. Each day presents an opportunity to start new, even if it’s June! It may take time to figure out that sweet spot of habits you can get on board with. It took me years to figure out that yoga and running were my exercise modalities of choice. Now I find it easy to get to the yoga studio or put my running shoes on, most days… let’s be real. And if you’re feeling the overwhelm, work on one habit at a time. You may find better success that way.
To be honest, habits just don’t form unless we do them daily. I don’t believe that there is an exact science to how long it takes for a habit to become routine, but it does require consistency. It requires showing up when you’re not feeling it, every single day. That’s the hard part, but it also goes back to number one above. If you notice your life is not being improved by a habit you’re trying to change or build, it may not be right for you. Try a different one that helps you achieve the same greater purpose. However, if it is improving your life, stick with it. That’s the most important thing.
Maybe you need some help in keeping a daily “practice” or one of your goals is to finish those work-related projects that you find hard to accomplish without some discipline. Schedule it! When you block out time on your calendar for weekly to-dos including exercise, you’re more likely to do it. Better yet, physically write everything down in a planner or on a calendar that’s hung wherever you’ll consistently see it. Block the time and truly commit to it. Remember your WHY and consider that time sacred.
What’s even more fun than writing and scheduling your to-do list? The physical act of crossing it off as done! Jerry Seinfeld used the “Don’t Break The Chain” technique when he committed to writing comedy every day. He would hang a year-at-a-glance calendar on a wall, and every day that he wrote new material, he’d cross the day off with a big red X. As the chain grew longer, the more motivated he was to keep showing up daily to write. Ideally, habits never break the chain.
Many ways exist to track your progress when building a habit. Just Google “habit tracking apps” and apparently there are the “24 Best Habit Tracking Apps” for 2019, according to lifehack.org. Who knew! If you use a planner to schedule, you can also use it to monitor your progress. Find a planner that includes weekly reflections so you can consider the progress you made each week, where you may have fallen short, and how you may need to refocus your energy the following week. If journaling is important to you, block out some time at the end of each week for self-reflection. When you start seeing consistent progress, you’ll be more motivated to continue indefinitely.
There are times we just don’t follow through and may be confused as to why. Our scheduling and tracking techniques aren’t working. Our “daily disciplines” are only happening every few days. While scheduling and tracking are important forms of personal accountability, they may not be enough. Sometimes we do accomplish more when others are reliant or invested in our progress, whether it’s a family trying to lose weight together, friends training for a marathon, or a career coach encouraging achievement of professional milestones. Find people that have mutual goals or determination to achieve greatness this year. Work together and hold each other accountable. Schedule those weekly check-ins over coffee (or wine)! And if you need that additional support, ALV Coaches are here to help.
If you’re not sure where to start to set your year off right, the following are a few essential habits that I encourage you to add to your list if they’re not already part of your daily life. They lay the foundation for the energy and health you’ll need to achieve your bigger picture ambitions. Remember you don’t have to tackle them all at once!
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep nightly. Your brain and cells need time to recuperate. Moods will stabilize and your family, friends, and coworkers will thank you.
- Exercise daily, even if it’s a brisk walk around the block. Just get moving! No need to “go all out or go home.”
- Eat a well-rounded diet of veggies, protein, and healthy fats, and lessen the sugar intake! Just be mindful. If you really need a taste of some sugar, don’t deprive yourself; try limiting it to one or two squares of chocolate, rather than the whole bar. Save the rest for another day (or two).
- Find your healthy(!) go-to stress reduction technique and use it when you’re feeling on edge. Call an understanding friend, take two minutes’ worth of long and deep breaths, meditate for 5-10 minutes, take a walk or a bath… whatever works for you.
Knowing how habits can change may be the piece that’s missing if you struggle to create habit change in your life. January provides that clean slate we sometimes need to start fresh or continue progressing upward. Commit to your growth and success this year. ALV wishes you your best year yet!