Why we should change Habits
rather than focus on New Year's resolutions
Most of our lives revolve around a series of habits and rituals that we do on a daily basis. Perhaps you get up and drink a coffee every morning after you roll out of bed. Maybe you scroll through your instagram feed for 20 minutes before your feet even touch the floor. Are you the person who sits down at 8pm with a sink full of dishes but are unable to take one step more so you end up deciding to Netflix and chill. If you are then I don't feel as alone.
This year I have decided I want to tweak some of those habits by changing up my habit loops. Charles Duhigg talks about this in detail in his book "The Power of Habit". A habit loop is made up of three components, the cue, the routine and the reward. Perhaps every time you think about going to the bathroom you have to find your phone so that you end up sitting for 15 minutes scrolling through facebook posts and are rewarded by hits of dopamine. The cue was the need to go to the washroom, the routine the constant scrolling and the reward the dopamine you got from all the likes you received on your last post.
Wendy Wood the author of the book "Good Habits, Bad Habits" discovered by studying a few thousand people that 40-45% of the decisions we make on a daily basis are not really decisions but rather habits. As you perform the same undertaking on a daily basis your mental activity drops off while you are carrying out that task day after day and your brain is almost turning off. Every day at 2pm you feel a drop in energy and decide reach for a cookie or two and even if you decided that you were on a diet you have turned around and eaten one again without thinking. How about the mindless scrolling through tiktok on your break at work?
Now this isn't to say that which we call "will power" doesn't take part in our rituals, but will power can also be exhaustible. We actually need to recognize our temptations and make a plan on how to resist it. When my children were around 4 or 5 I tried out an activity with them. If you have small children you might be interested in trying this our with your own. It is called the marshmallow test. Sit your child down at a table and place a single marshmallow in front of them. Tell then you just need to step out for a few minutes and that if they don't eat the marshmallow while you are gone you will add one more so that rather than one marshmallow they will actually get two. Walk away for 10 minutes and see what happens.
Interestingly enough when I walked back into the room 10 minutes later my oldest daughter hadn't touched the marshmallow. This is rare for those who take this test. To this day she is th saver and has the most self discipline. Her bank account is padded and she probably still has chocolate left from Halloween. My son on the other hand didn't make it a minute and that sweet puff of yummy goodness was all but a memory. Over the years he was the child who had absolutely no impulse control and the second money landed in his hands it burned a hole in his pocket.
This doesn't have to be a life sentence for my son though, it just means that he has to wake up his brain just a bit to make some decisions... perhaps like his mom (I probably would have eaten the marshmallow at that age too... especially if it was one of my Dad's famous rice crispy and caramel Christmas marshmallows.
As you are sitting here looking at 2022 you might be thinking to yourself I want to set some goals for the new year. Perhaps you want to loose weight, maybe you want to get into physical shape, maybe you want to reduce your screen time, save money or take up a new hobby like gardening. What typically happens in January is that you are all revved up to achieve your new and then by February you have lost interest and gone back to your old ways. It was just easier that way. Now don't get me wrong. I love goals. I have business goals and personal goals but there has to be clear steps laid out in order to achieve those goals and it is not simply by saying "I want to loose weight". These goals are going to be achieved by the daily habits I put into place and maintain over a long period of time.
You don't necessarily need to strictly focus on getting rid of old habits you can also look at your daily routine and insert positive new habits through a simple cue. Perhaps you want to drink more water but struggle to do that. Maybe every evening you can fill up a bottle of water and put it by your bed so that when you sit up in bed in the morning you don't get out of bed until you drink the bottle of water.
James Clear in his book Atomic Habits states that habits are the compound interest of self improvement. Much like the philosophy that I have adopted, "Little By Little One Goes Far", Clear says that if we are able to get just 1% better each day for a year we will end up 37% better when the year is done. The habits we change ever so slightly may not seem like much on any given day but added up over time they are enormous.
The first step to changing your habits is to decide what type of person you want to be. You can say to yourself "I am a healthy person", "I am a gardener", "I am an entrepreneur", "I am a photographer". With every seed you plant or every photo you take you are becoming more of the person you have decide that you are. Your goal should not be to plant a garden this year it should be "I am a gardener and I love to garden".
If you read Clear's book he talks about something called the Plateau of Latent Potential. Habits don't always seem to follow a linear course. We expect to just perform an action and then the result we anticipate will be achieved. It is in the valley of disappointment that people often fall off the wagon and go back to their old ways.
I think all of these authors bring incredible knowledge on the subject to the table and if you are a reader and have not read these books I highly recommend all of them. If you aren't a reader then maybe that is going to be one of the first habits you change. I however in my life with 5 children much prefer to listen to books on Audible.
Here is a link that will help you get two free audio books when you sign up with Audible which gives you no excuse no to listen to any of the mentioned books above.
So this year I believe there are a few steps that you need to take to make lasting changes in your life. You won't be alone because I will be making my own too. The most successful people who makes concrete changes in their lives have been known to be the ones who write out a plan.
The first is to take an inventory of the habits you would like to change that would greatly benefit your life and get you to achieve your long term goals.
Find the cues to these habits that are holding you back.
Decide on a couple changes that you can make in your routine to help trigger you out of the mindlessness of your current habits.
Set up rewards to help your habits stick
Draw yourself out the plateau of latent potential and remind yourself that when you are in the valley of disappointment if you keep taking those small steps each and every day you will soon be out of that plateau and great things will happen.
Don't give up if you mess up.
Remember above all else "Little By Little One Goes Far"
Now one of the keys to making this all work for you is going to be to set up your environment for success. If you camera is buried in a closet out of sight the idea of pulling it out to take your photos with take a lot of mental energy. Perhaps you find your camera a new and prominent space by the door so you can grab it and go because you "are" a photographer. Maybe your pantry has a snack shelf that you reach for every time you are hungry. You have decided that processed snacks are not beneficial to your healthy lifestyle. You will need to set up your space to help you with your new habits by placing a fruit basket in the spot where your old snack shelf once was.
So below I have attached a PDF worksheets (click on the bottom link) that I will be using on my journey to changing habits in 2022. Under each habit section pick a habit you want change and replace with a new habit. List your cue as a reminder of what causes you to fall into that habit. Do your very best to be consistent each day with the new habit and color the circles in as you succeed on each day. At the end of the month count up your total days of achieving your new habit and write it in the box below. Decide on reward and and treat yourself along the journey. Push your self the following month to print off the tracker again and see if you can do just as well if not better than the first month.
I hope they are helpful for you as you work on the path to make long and lasting changes in your own life. Little by little we go!