Tag Archives: new year’s resolutions

3 Simple Steps to Build Habits that Stick

Following through on new year’s resolutions,  heading in the right direction, meeting goals, or making creative shifts requires the ability to build sustainable, congruent habits. While self-discipline, willpower and a growth mindset all play a role in making your dreams and wishes come true,  it’s habit formation that makes the process easier.

A habit is an automatic tendency, behavior or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.  It is formed through regular repetition and is a natural consequence of how the human brain works. Healthy habits keep you on the path of worthwhile pursuits, despite obstacles and setbacks.

Whether you seek to finish an innovative project, make time for daily exercise, develop an essential skill or just get more sleep,  you will benefit from building habits that trigger positive change and continuous progress.

Follow these 3 simple steps to build habits that stick: 

1. Start small. Having Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) can be highly motivating, but moving toward them often involves taking incremental steps. Likewise, to implement a new behavior that you want to become a habit, start with a small, doable action from which you can build momentum. As Leo Babauta of Zen Habits says, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.”

Need to create a writing habit that will help you complete your sci-fi novel and become a published author? To start, you could commit to writing a page or for 15 minutes each morning. Then, after this becomes ingrained, add another page or an additional 15 minutes. Keep building on the practice until you’re up to a chapter or two-hour writing blocks a day (or whatever maximum you can handle).

Start with super small actions that you can expand upon as they become habitual or routinized. Your forcing yourself to write a chapter or for two hours, right off the bat, won’t work. Instead, you’ll likely find yourself checking emails, updating your social media posts, scrolling through online news feeds or giving in to other distractions to alleviate tension or boredom.

Depending on who you ask, it usually takes 21 days, 28 days or 30 days, to form a new habit. In one 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, a University College London research team found that it takes an average of 66 days until an action becomes automatic.

The researchers recruited  96 participants (a statistically insignificant number) who were interested in forming a new habit such as eating a piece of fruit with lunch or doing a 15-minute run each day. Participants were then asked daily whether their behavior was “hard not to do”or could be done “without thinking.” The study found that on average, the “plateau of automaticity” was reached after 66 days.

Despite the research studies, there is no magic number of days to form a habit. Some behaviors are harder to adopt than others. It’s much easier to write an article than to finish a whole book. Eating a salad for lunch each day is less challenging than completing a daily, one-hour workout at the gym.

For most people – no matter how long it takes to form a habit – starting with a small action is more effective than going for bold changes at the outset. In Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Jon Acuff suggests you cut your goal in half or double the timeline to avoid the perfectionist, now-or-never mentality that stops follow-through.

To incorporate mindfulness meditation into my evening routine, I started with 15 minutes.  To implement a tai chi practice into my morning rituals, I began with just 10 minutes. Shooting for 30 minutes or 1 hour would have led to failure in making them into daily habits. A regular practice, even for a minimal amount of time, provides significant benefits that I would not otherwise get if I didn’t do it at all.

Lower the bar and reduce your expectations if you’re having trouble making consistent, lasting progress. Set yourself up for success by taking small actions you can readily accomplish and will give increase your sense of control.

2. State your “if-then” plans.  Positive thinking helps you learn from failures and recover from setbacks. But it’s not enough to get you where you want to be, as  Gabriele Oettingen, psychology professor and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking,  Inside the New Science of Motivation, points out.

Oettingen discusses a four-step process called WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) to  think about potential obstacles, contrast them with your dreams and goals, and design a plan to overcome them to attain preferred outcomes.

In one research article, Oettingen and her colleague, Peter Gollwitzer, explain that making if-then statements is a powerful way to create a desired future behavior or outcome. They state, “While goal intentions (goals) have the structure ‘I intend to reach Z!’ with Z relating to a desired future behavior or outcome, implementation intentions have the structure ‘If situation X is encountered, then I will perform the goal-directed response Y!'”

Using an if-then format, you specify plans on where, when and how you want to act  in certain situations. Oettingen and Gollwitzer note, “For instance, a person with the goal to reduce alcohol consumption might form the following implementation intention: ‘And whenever a waiter suggests ordering a second drink, then I’ll ask for mineral water!'” This helps to close the gap between having goals and reaching them.

If-then statements establish patterns that prompt healthy behaviors and responses to specific situations. They are based on critical cues (opportunities or obstacles), such as your emotional state, the time, your location/environment, and the preceding action, which are linked to the goal-directed response.

When faced with the critical cue, you have a pre-planned, automatic (habitual) response to deal with it. For example, instead of telling yourself “I will get enough sleep everyday,” you could say, “If it’s 9:30 p.m., I’ll start winding down to go to bed by 10 p.m.” Rather than commit to “I will maintain a clutter-free home,” you could specify, “After dinner, I’ll clear out the junk mail.”

Oettingen has a related WOOP app designed to help you fulfill your wishes and change your habits with if-then plans. The process is based on environmental triggers and current routines you can use to build a new habit or to add to an existing one.

3. Suck at it.  Don’t be in a rush to become an expert or a master; embrace the beginner’s mind, in which there are many possibilities and nothing is all figured out. If you miss a day or two of taking an action that you want to become a daily habit, just get back to it.  No need to count this as a break in your streak.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg states, “Some habits yield easily to analysis and influence. Others are more complex and obstinate, and require prolonged study. And for others, change is a process that never fully concludes. But that doesn’t mean it can’t occur.”

Even when you fall short of your ideal behavior or preferred outcome, getting things right 5%, 20% or 50% of the time is overall better than 0%. By cutting yourself some slack, you get to continue your efforts rather than abandon them at the first slip-up.

Over time, and with sustained effort, you can make better informed decisions on whether to continue the action or habit. If it’s not truly purposeful or enjoyable, you can not only suck at it, but you can give it up altogether.

* * *

If you have trouble fulfilling resolutions or achieving goals, try these 3 simple steps to build habits that stick and will help you make sustainable progress without beating yourself up.

CONTACT        SUBSCRIBE  

# # #

How to create success without setting goals

Making resolutions and setting big goals are expected when the year comes to a close and a new one is set to begin. Nearly half of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. But less than 10 percent actually achieve them. And goal-setting, at any time of the year, often involves lofty aspirations and ambitious to-dos that don’t necessarily serve you well.

While goal-setting is meant to move you in the desired direction, it can do the opposite. It frequently fuels anxiety and heightens stress in a way that interferes with real progress. An outcome-based goal is a milestone, benchmark or metric that is not always met and, even when met, doesn’t always provide a deep sense of meaning.

If you hate setting goals or don’t find them particularly helpful, try a different approach that focuses on what you control and what drives you in the present.

This internally-oriented approach involves three main components:

1. Clarify your purpose 

Start by determining your top priorities, core values, and BIG WHY behind what you do and want to do.

Ask yourself what positive feelings you want to derive from the life you lead and create. Pick one to three defining words or themes to shape your year (or a shorter time period, such as 3 months or 6 months, if you prefer).

In 2006, my word was Adventure. It led me to jump out of an airplane and tandem skydive, say yes to more social events, and go rock climbing on a cliff.

In 2016, my word was Fluidity. I honed a work-life mix that involved doing extended work in the morning; playing/chatting with my toddler, responding to phone calls and emails, running errands, and working in short bursts during the day; enjoying family time over dinner; doing focused work after my kid went to bed; and then reflecting, planning and winding down.

When you define how you want to act in life and relate to others, you can make conscious choices and take deliberate action that align with your heartfelt wishes. You keep what’s vital to you and your environment and clear out the non-essentials.

“Success is a feeling; it’s not necessarily an accumulation.” – Simon Senek, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

“Stay anchored to the desired feeling, and open to the form in which it manifests.” – Danielle La Porte in The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul.

2. Focus on the process

Develop systems that do not rely on willpower to get the right things done. Be curious about what works and what doesn’t, build healthy habits, and develop routines and schedules that keep you on track no matter what. Concentrate on daily progress, instead of accomplishing the big goal.

Let go of limiting beliefs about what you should do and not do. I would not have started my own law firm, at the time that I did, if I held on to the belief that being successful meant having a brick-and-mortar office, hiring a full-time staff, and having more clients than I could personally handle. By building a remotely-run law practice from the ground up, I have a profitable business that gives me the freedom and flexibility to set my agenda, carefully choose clients and turn down cases, and work only on issues that interest me.

If you own a business, you cannot control how many products you sell or how many new clients you get in a month. But you can control how you engage with your community, treat existing customers, deliver and design a work product, respond to inquiries, and market your business.

Realize there are many paths to get to an ideal state. There’s no shame in choosing the easiest and quickest path (although taking a tough and long one is okay, too.)

If you’re a chronic multitasker who wants to develop mindfulness, you may start with mindful eating, instead of a formal meditation practice. Chew your food 30 times before you swallow. Pay attention to the taste, smell, look and texture. Notice when you get hungry and how full you feel before, during and after you eat. Think about the origins of what you ingest and digest.

It’s rare to achieve life-changing goals in the time frame and in the way that you plan. Commit to an effective process and take deliberate actions that naturally lead to positive, long-term results. Drop your fixation on specific outcomes and stay open to exploring new opportunities and shifting gears.

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.” – Scott Adams, creator of the syndicated Dilbert cartoons and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

3. Be kind to yourself

Above all, practice self-compassion. An internally-oriented approach to creating success doesn’t mean you will experience magical bliss and no anxiety or stress.

You will face shifting priorities, conflicting values and competing commitments that generate a sense of incompleteness and even guilt. You come back to the present, stop punishing yourself for things left undone, and acknowledge the actions you did take.

When your intentions fall through, don’t just throw up your hands and call yourself a failure. Decide whether you really want to do or create this thing. And if you do, roll up your sleeves. And. GET. TO. WORK.

Know that whether the important step is taken or the end goal is achieved, you are enough. Completing the marathon, building a sustainable business, launching your podcast, and raising a self-reliant child are all spectacular objectives. But failure to achieve them does not take away from your personal worth and individual contributions.

Radical self-acceptance is more effective than grand self-loathing. Acceptance is not the same as tolerating and putting up with crap. It is being aware of what is within your control and what is not. Acceptance doesn’t mean you will never change or change things for the better, but rather that the change comes from a healthier, stronger, and more grounded place.

“As you learn self-acceptance, realize that it is always available to you, and you can have it no matter what you do. You can learn, create interesting things, make connections with others, with self-acceptance at the center of that.” – Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits. 

* * *

Goal-setting can be a very useful planning tool for achieving what you seek. But an outcome-based mindset is not necessary to creating success. When you can be with yourself unconditionally and fully appreciate where you’re at, you’re more likely to make choices and act in accordance with what you truly want. Only then do you have genuine success.

CONTACT        SUBSCRIBE  

# # #

Photo by: Andrew Stawarz

3 surefire steps to create what you want

A new year is the traditional time to roll out positive changes. It brings added pressure to shed bad habits, kick-start big projects, and move toward audacious goals.

But once the initial excitement wears off and the fears and doubts creep in, it can be hard to sustain the momentum to get where you want to be.

Whether or not you’re into making resolutions, here are 3 surefire steps to create what you want (throughout the year and beyond):

1. Get clear on what you want

Until you choose your desired destination, you’re bound to end up someplace else by default. You need to get clear on what you want so you can commit to it and get real results.

And do some soul searching to understand why you want the thing you want. The thing itself is usually less important than the feeling or experience you expect to get from it.

If your goal this year is to meet the love of your life, imagine how you would feel if you did. Would you feel connected, blissful and aligned? Focus on areas in your present life where you already experience connection, bliss and alignment. When you come from a place of abundance and wholeness, instead of scarcity and inadequacy, you’re more likely to create what you truly want (which might be different from what you think you want).

2. Take committed action to get what you want

Too many options and undetermined choices can keep you stuck. Decide what your priorities are and commit fully to them, above all else.

In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown notes that doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, is more effective than having it all and doing everything.

Start saying no and stop over-committing to opportunities that don’t line up with your real priorities. Save your time, preserve your energy, and make space for what you really want. Instead of multitasking and jumping back and forth, apply laser sharp focus on your top priority.

Break down your goal into a gradual, step-by-step process. Put each actionable step on a to-do list or add it to your calendar. Set target dates to complete your top tasks and prioritize accordingly. Then chip away and follow up until you’re done.

Small, gradual steps are much easier to sustain than huge, giant leaps that require drastic changes to your habits or routines. If I want to seriously progress as a pianist, I have to practice daily. I’d be better off starting out with 15 minutes a day and building on that after a month, instead of going for an 1 hour a day and fizzling out after a week.

Quit making excuses about why you’re not making progress. Make use of time pockets and work in short bursts if you don’t have huge blocks of time to get the steps done. Hold yourself accountable and call on a friend, colleague, coach or mentor to help you stay on track and keep your commitments. Delegate, barter or hire someone to deal with minutiae that don’t capitalize on your strengths.

3. Let go of what you want

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, letting go of what you want is essential. There’s  a big difference between clinging to an outcome and striving for it.

Focus on what you can influence. Fully engage with the process. Be present. Make stops along the way to celebrate small wins and acknowledge where you’re at.

Go all out and give it your best shot. But drop the urge to control outcomes and circumstances that are uncontrollable. Despite your dedication and diligence, there’s no guarantee you’ll get exactly what you want.

You start out by choosing your desired destination. You might encounter hurdles and detours that cause delays in getting where you want to be.

You gain simply by stepping on to the right path, appreciating your progress, and enjoying the journey itself. And if you stay open enough, you just might end up in a place that is way more desirable than you ever dreamed possible.

CONTACT          SUBSCRIBE 

# # #

Photo by: MeganLynnette