Let's face it. Each year it's the same routine. You decide that this is the year — the year you're going to get your life together and ditch your bad habits. You make a list of New Year’s resolutions that you promise to keep, but come mid-February (well, probably mid-January), your New Year’s resolutions have been long forgotten.
Perhaps, you gave up on creating New Year’s resolutions years ago because you, like most people around you, could never stick to them. And since you're sort of right, why bother?
The problem with the concept of New Year’s resolutions is the inherent notion that you expect to wake up one morning and suddenly turn your life around. You pledge to shift from indulging in delicious holiday meals in December to sticking to a strict salad and fitness regimen.
You’ve probably also decided to volunteer more, read more, save more money, procrastinate less, watch less television and spend less time on Facebook. Since you've pretty much decided to complete an overnight 180, how can you realistically expect to stick to your resolutions?
You can’t. You've essentially set yourself up for failure.
The key to making lasting life changes is to change habits. Our modes of operation are nurtured by the repetition of our daily actions. But it’s not easy to shift habits.
Imagine being right-handed, but someone asks you to write with your left hand. It would feel strange and your handwriting would probably be terrible. The first few times you’d feel frustrated and disappointed, but over the course of a few weeks, your handwriting would get considerably better. You’d feel more comfortable.
Your body responds the same way when you’re trying to formulate a new habit or get rid of a bad one. It will be uncomfortable and difficult. You probably won't feel so great after the first few times, and maybe you’ll slip up. Over time, however, you will improve and your body will slowly grow accustomed to this new routine. In time, this foreign process will become a habit and you will become uncomfortable not operating in accordance to your new pattern.
But imagine that this challenging process is not focused on just one of your bad habits (like skipping your morning workout to sleep in) but toward all of them simultaneously.
How can you possibly expect this to go well? It's way too much change at once, and it’s way too much for your body to handle. Soon you'll realize that you can't stick to all of your goals, so you give up on everything.
This does not mean that you should give up on making goals for the New Year to be the best you. But it does mean that you should definitely ditch your arbitrary list of New Year’s resolutions and make a New Year’s plan instead.
To change your habits successfully, you must start small and take one step at a time.
Take the list of goals you have in mind for next year and stagger them throughout 12 months. Forming a habit necessitates a few weeks of repetition, so assign a goal to each month. Then, develop small steps to help you support that habit until it becomes rooted in routine.
So, say your goal is to read more regularly. Start by reading just 10 minutes per night before bed. It's a practical and feasible change, and it’s likely that you’ll find yourself reading upwards of a half hour nightly.
Force yourself to continue doing this for a couple of weeks (even if it means skipping your favorite television show or staying up a few minutes later than normal). Not only will you have knocked off a few books from your reading list, you'll also start to feel uncomfortable if you head to sleep without reading. It’s just the power of habit.
Next month, move forward to another goal. Apply the same method: small, achievable steps that will integrate your goal into you daily routine. Repeating an action shifts it into necessity, so make sure you follow through every day. You will see results, but remember to be patient.
So rather than haphazardly drafting up a list of random resolutions, come up with a plan for improvements you actually plan to implement. Come January 1, take a step back and split your resolutions into monthly goals. Don’t make self-improvement a chore of obligations; take one habit at a time with one small step a time.
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