Be honest. Ever made a New Year’s resolution? Ever actually KEPT one?
I’m not sure of the exact stats but a massive percentage of New Year’s resolutions are broken by the end of January.
At the recent conference I attended, acclaimed positive psychology lecturer Dr Tal Ben-Shahar spoke about how we often know what the ‘right’ thing to do is, but this isn’t enough to get us doing it. And yet, there are things we do every day with very little effort – such as brushing our teeth. We don’t need to find the motivation to do it. We don’t need to wait for inspiration to strike! We’ve created a ritual, and so we have to work too hard to achieve it. Tal suggests that we should break down the things we want to achieve into small chunks, and work on creating one new ritual at a time. When one has been cemented, you can start on a new one.
This got me thinking about the things that I’ve been achieving over the last couple of years. Two that immediately sprang to mind were giving up soft drink, and losing 10 kilograms. And I did both of these via small, incremental changes.
See, it works both ways. You can create a new habit by starting small and slowly building it. And you can stop an existing habit by gradually cutting it down.
Until recently, and as far back as I can remember, I consumed soft drink daily. I found that cool, sweet fizz more refreshing than any other food or drink. Then I started to learn just how bad sugar is for the body and the brain. And I tried to quit a few times – went cold turkey. Depriving myself of it was the worst possible thing for me – it consumed my thoughts until eventually I’d give in and binge on it! It never stuck.
At some stage last year I decided to simply cut down and drink less of the stuff. This was less overwhelming for me. Initially I replaced soft drink with 100% fruit juice. Yes, I know it still has a lot of sugar, but it was about half the sugar of soft drink – an incremental improvement. I allowed myself two days per week where I could have a soft drink. Yes, I tracked this in my diary (left-brained + perfectionist = no surprises there). Then I started to replace the juice with water. Then I only allowed myself one day per week to have soft drink.
Before I knew it, I’d gone a whole month and I hadn’t had a single sip of soft drink. And I didn’t even miss it.
I’ve done a similar thing with exercising and losing weight. When I stopped dancing and cheerleading, I put on a LOT of weight. I felt totally helpless, it seemed like too much weight for me to ever get rid of. And I’m not a fan of going to the gym, or bootcamp, or anything like that. A couple of times I tried to get up early in the morning and go for a run, that failed miserably. But then I realised that something is better than nothing. So I started to walk.
I started as soon as I got home from work. Didn’t even let myself sit on the couch. Just got changed (didn’t even sit down to change my shoes) and walked 10 minutes in one direction, then turned around and came home. Easy. Something I knew I could achieve. Once that became my daily habit, I started making the walk longer, until eventually I was walking for a total of 50 minutes. Now part of my walk is actually on the sand at the beach, to add another level of intensity for myself.
And yes, by doing this, I lost 10 kilos, without having to indulge in exercise that I hate, or be yelled at by a personal trainer.
This can work for anything. Want to write a book? Start by committing to a sentence a day. Sit at the computer until you have written that sentence. Soon that will become easy, and you can move to two sentences, a paragraph, a page, etc. You will build momentum. Want to learn a new language? Start with one new word or phrase per day. Build it up.
We have to train ourselves when we are trying to do something new, so that we don’t get overwhelmed, feel that it’s all too hard, and give up.
So here’s my advice:
Don’t make resolutions just because it’s a new year, or a new month, or you’ve been to a seminar, or you’ve read something that changed your outlook. Take time to work out where you want to be and how you are going to get there. It is never too late to make a fresh start. Take your time and make sure that when you start writing your next chapter, it is your story, and that you haven’t accidentally picked up someone else’s book.
Where do you want to be in a month’s time? In exactly the same place you are now, or do you want to grow in one way or another?
Start to make those incremental changes. Don’t try to turn your life upside down – just focus on one thing to get you going. Commit to it! Start small, and then build.
If, at any time, you decide you are on the wrong path, don’t be afraid to set a new goal, and change your direction.
Incremental change is better than ambitious failure (Tony Schwartz)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and whether there are any changes that you plan to make, by creating new habits or cutting out old habits! Comment below, or come and chat on Facebook or Twitter!