Developing tiny new habits can be almost effortless, AND lead to success
Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again; the time when we set resolutions and goals we want to achieve in the coming months or years. Or, for a lot of us, it’s the time that resolutions have already gone out the window, and the goal is merely a long distant concept!
“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.”
But don’t despair!
I’ve failed to achieve several goals I’ve set for myself — and I wrote a book on goal setting! So, in this post, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about goal setting, resolutions, and habits — and how they all fit together.
Goals, resolutions, and habits — what’s the difference?
A goal is future-focused and outlines measurable specific steps to get you there. There are other criteria needed for successful goal setting, and achievement. (Download my free Goal Setting Workbook, which outlines all 7 P.E.R.F.E.C.T steps)
A resolution is often a resolve to stop or start doing something and is more focused on habits. For example, get to bed by 10.30 pm, don’t eat after 7.00 pm, take supplements every day, stop watching TV. We gear resolutions towards changing habits or creating new ones.
A habit is typically something we do on auto-pilot. Habits can lead to many positive outcomes and provide a sound foundation for goal achievement. Of course, bad habits can do the opposite, taking us away from our goals. You have to practice something a lot before it becomes a habit.
The 3 habits I mentioned earlier; having a regular bedtime, not eating late, and taking supplements, will become habits that contribute to a healthy mind and body; useful routines to develop if you’ve set some type of health and fitness goal for yourself this year.
When you are well, you have more energy and confidence to pursue those big goals. That’s why many productivity experts and goal enthusiasts advocate tracking new habits (or replacing ones that don’t serve you).
Creating positive habits helps you achieve your goals
Let’s say your goal is to complete a marathon. (By their very nature many long-term goals are marathons.)
Obviously, you’ll need to be more specific than that
- Which marathon— what date is it?
- Do you intend to run or walk?
- How long do you want to take to complete the marathon?
(Make setting a specific goal super-easy and download the free Goal Setting workbook)
Writing your goal isn’t enough to accomplish it (although it is a good start).
It would be ludicrous to turn up on the day of your marathon and expect to do well if you had done no preparation. You need specific steps and a structure to get you to the finish line — or even the start line. By developing useful habits you’ll support yourself to achieve your long-term outcome.
The Energy, Effort, and Enthusiasm (Principle #5) in my Goal Setting book enables you to think of new habits that will support your goals.
Planners and diaries often include easy ways to track new habits
A habit tracker is a simple matrix where you list new habits you want to form on one axis and the days of the week or month along another axis. I’ve also seen habit trackers in circular formats. If this idea appeals to you, search the web for one of many free downloadables and find one that suits your needs. If tracking your habits on your phone is more your style, there are plenty of apps that will serve the same purpose.
So habits (which may begin as resolutions) and goals fit together
The great thing about developing positive new habits is they become part of who you are and what you do. You do them on autopilot. For example, I walk my dog every morning and evening. I don’t have to think about it any longer or track it as a habit. Like cleaning my teeth twice a day, it’s something I do automatically.
That frees me up to look at new habits I want to incorporate into my daily routine
For instance, I was experiencing pain in my left leg due to the psoas muscle. So I started an exercise of standing on that leg and lifting the right leg for 2-minutes, to strengthen the muscle. I do this while I clean my teeth. The electric toothbrush has a 2-minute timer — so easy-peasy. I’ve been doing it for about a month and can definitely feel an improvement.
You build habits day-by-day
Think of them as continuous tiny improvements. Getting to bed by 10.30 pm, not eating after 7.00 pm, and taking supplements every day are three habits I’m building this year that contribute to a longer-term goal I started last year.
Unlike a goal, where you either achieve it or you don’t, you incorporate habits into your daily routines
If you don’t incorporate the habit one day — for whatever reason — that’s feedback. There’s no need to beat yourself up about it. Simply re-examine the habit and see if you can tag the new habit into routines you’ve already formed. For example, with my supplement taking, I sometimes forgot to take them at the right time and with a meal. So I started putting the supplements into a tiny dish and putting that dish on the plate I’m going to eat from. I don’t dish up the food until I’ve taken the supplements.
I was struggling to get to bed by 10.30 pm, so I set an alarm on my phone for 9.30 pm. When the alarm goes off, it’s a signal to slow down. So if I’m working, I stop at that point and start getting ready for bed by completing my evening facial routine, cleaning my teeth, putting on a dressing gown. Then I grab a warm drink, put my feet up and read my book.
By taking these actions, I’m signaling to my body that it’s time to relax. At 10.30 pm, I just slip into bed.
I’m not perfect at this, and I rationalise I don’t want to become so habituated that I’m inflexible. I still have times when I ignore the alarm because I’m determined to finish something. But I’m about 80% better than I used to be when I considered any time before 1.00 am ‘an early night’! For me, that’s a win.
“Good habits, once established, are just as hard to break as bad habits” – Robert Puller
Make creating new habits really easy
You can begin new habits with a gentle, simple process that’s actually doable — rather than overwhelming yourself with some ginormous goal.
Want to start a journalling habit? Start by writing one sentence a day.
Want to get fit?
Unless you’re extremely determined and obsessive, don’t tell yourself you’ll work out at the gym 4 evenings a week for an hour each time, when you’ve been a couch potato and never even been in a gym. (Do you know that gyms make most of their annual profits in December and January, from people signing up for the beginning of the year and then never activating their membership — or showing up at the gym?)
How about starting with just walking around the block when you’ve finished work once a week?
Make that a habit and then maybe try something more ambitious.
Perhaps you want to get rid of a bad habit
To accomplish this, notice what triggers you to engage in the unwanted behaviour, then establish a new response pattern. Hint: the trigger is usually something you see, hear, or physically feel.
For instance; you see or hear a notification on your phone. Your usual response might be to pick up the phone and respond. But that takes you out of the flow state you’re in and you don’t want to check and respond immediately. So you could pre-empt this reaction by:
- Turning off notifications
- Putting your phone into ‘do not disturb’ mode
- Leaving your phone in another room.
- Turning the phone off altogether
Perhaps you’re triggered to eat unhealthy snacks at certain times when
- You’re procrastinating on doing something (who me?).
- You get distracted.
- You hear your stomach rumble.
- You feel uncomfortable.
- You notice the clock says it’s morning tea time.
You could pre-empt eating rubbish by making sure you have only healthy snacks handy.
I know these tips aren’t rocket science
They’re pretty simple and effortless. And they work.
Personally, I’m all for simple and effortless. We complicate life enough. It’s a relief to discover that tiny changes can have an enormous impact over time and will help you achieve your longer-term goals.
So, what goals, habits, and resolutions do you want to make this year?
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