We go through this every year. We set goals and get pumped to work towards them. “I’m gonna lose fifteen pounds this year!”, “I’m gonna eat healthier” or the toughest of all for most people… “I’m gonna save more money!”
Most of us start off strong in January, February and maybe even through March! By April, that new year’s resolution goes right out the window. In this new decade, let’s leave this old habit behind because after all, #NewDecadeNewYou!
So, how can we actually stick to our goals and get to a point where we consistently achieve them? What’s a realistic expectation for the new year? There are a few things to consider:
Goals Alone Aren’t Enough
The two books that really go in-depth about why goals alone aren’t enough for most people to achieve their desired outcomes are Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and James Clear’s Atomic Habits. You probably noticed that both titles share the word “habit”. That’s because habits are much more critical in our daily lives compared to goals. We often get so hung up on “SMART goals”, which are also taught in schools now, but what we should be addressing in the 21st century are habits. Habits are becoming increasingly more important because technology has made people dependent on constant stimulation and immediate gratification. We’re no longer in full control of our own lives when we can’t put our phones down! So, say we set a goal of using our phones less in the new year– the only way to actually achieve this is to carefully examine our habits to find out what triggers our phone use. Then, we can effectively take steps to make the change we want.
Sandwich New Routines Between Old Ones For Better Results
When we establish good habits in our lives, they help us reach our goals more effectively. Bad habits? Those make things much harder or completely prevents us from successfully reaching our goals. Habits strongly influence our day to day behaviors, hence why we need to harness that power and use it for good. Let’s stick with the example of wanting to use our phones less here. After examining our daily habits, we find that we use our phones for hours right before we go to bed. Typically, we do our whole hygiene routine before getting some sleep. Knowing that this is a set routine, try slotting a new habit in that routine. While you’re in the bathroom doing your thing before bed, charge your phone by or near the bathroom, further away from your bed. Then, after brushing and washing your face, head over to bed (without your phone!) and close your eyes. You would feel less tempted to grab your phone once you’re all tucked in. After a few weeks of this routine, you’ll start getting used to the new routine of brushing your teeth, charging your phone by the bathroom and heading straight to bed. It will soon become a habit!
Identify The Habit Loops That Already Exist In Your Daily Life
You may need to step back and examine what you already do each day automatically. And this is very hard to do because it’s automatically happening and you don’t even think about it when you do it! Atomic Habits includes details about the habit loop which starts with a cue that triggers a craving, followed by a response, and finally a reward. You have to find out what the cues are that lead you to crave certain behaviors so that you can interrupt or change your habit loops.
In the same example mentioned above, our goal is to stop using the phone so much throughout the day. After analyzing our behavior for a day, we realize that the cue is the phone vibrating when notifications hit. The notifications make you crave information like who’s texting, or who retweeted me? When you give in to that craving, you follow up with a response or an action, which in this case would be actually picking up the phone and going through the notifications. Finally, you get that reward of seeing new likes on Instagram or reading a cute text from your partner. This entire habit loop makes it very clear that you need to interrupt it at the very beginning with the cue and one simple way to do this would be to turn off the notifications on your phone. This will significantly reduce the number of cues triggering you throughout the day and can help you initially cut down and phone usage!
What I love about the habit loop is that it makes changing behavior, which is very difficult to do, feel attainable with bite-sized steps to follow. It prevents people from having false hopes or unrealistic expectations that they’ll magically begin to use their phone less just because they set a goal for it. Be realistic! You’ve got to get to the root of it through your habits.
Public Accountability Can Be Powerful
This is especially true when it comes to behaviors you want to change for the better. If you join a book club, you’ll likely read more. If you join a budget challenge with a handful of friends, you’ll likely be better at budgeting. If you have a go-to workout buddy, you’ll likely begin to work out consistently. This is because you’re attaching the habit with a reward. In this case, it’s a social reward, but in any case, it would be a positive feeling at the end of the habit loop. Whenever the reward is positive, the cycle forms a positive feedback loop. This tells your brain, “Hey brain, the next time this cue happens, do the same response.” (i.e. “When everyone’s posting their workout videos, I’ll post mine!” Or “When book club is meeting again, I’ll participate.”)
When you combine all of these tips above, you get the best end result! It is not easy but you are so much better off now that you know it isn’t all about goals and resolutions. Too many people set their goals and have high expectations at the start of the year, only to be bummed out later on when they didn’t reach their goals. Don’t be one of those people this year. Let’s make 2020 the year for realistic expectations for ourselves!