As we embrace the new year with the hope that it will be better than the last, many of us have also made resolutions we would like to fulfill. For most of us, establishing a series of New Year’s resolutions in which we make promises to ourselves to instill certain changes in our lives means creating new and positive habits. Easier said than done, right?
According to multiple studies in the United States, approximately 80% of resolutions are actually abandoned by the end of February. This year, however, many have had the gift of solitude and quiet time, which hopefully has resulted in more focus on ourselves and acknowledgment of the ways in which we can further enrich our lives. In other words, all of this time spent soul-searching may have actually paved the way to truly accomplish what matters most to us. Regardless, it has given this expat the time to do the research about how best to embark upon creating positive changes and so, here are some of the top tips on how to start a new habit:
Awareness and accountability
The best first step is to gift yourself a journal and actually write down your resolution. Awareness and accountability are necessary elements to even begin making a permanent change. Knowing what it is you want and visualizing yourself excelling in the habit will strongly set you up to achieve your end-goal because you will clearly know what that is. In other words, have the end in sight. Knowing what you want and establishing realistic and practical steps to get it will make the goal tangible and thus achievable. Acknowledging your plans by scheduling it into your day and confiding in loved ones that this plan is here to stay is another way to open up space in your life to make the goal a reality.
WOOPs, I did it again
Delving deeper into the concept of awareness and accountability lies the WOOP strategy, developed by German princess and psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, in which deciphering your “Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan” serves as a self-regulation tool to assist in mastering habits and long-term change. To practice this strategy; get out that journal and identify what you want to achieve then write down what would be a positive aspect of doing so and what could be an obstacle you face. The final step is to establish a plan to overcome the said obstacle, giving you the framework to sustain what you want by successfully facing the challenges that come up along the way.
Know it may not be easy
I once read that happiness can be achieved by doing things you don’t want to do at that moment to reach a goal in the long-term. If so, then, this means that while striving to achieve happiness may not be fun, the outcome certainly is. Creating new habits is not easy, which is why it is a resolution, a challenge, and necessitates a goal, to begin with. Try to stop thinking and feeling and just physically do it. Whatever it is, if you do it consistently, it is nearly guaranteed to become easier, and hence you will better excel at it the more you do it. Have the end in sight for when it gets too difficult to feel motivated and just remember that the happiness generated by this habit will, at least, be waiting for you at the end of the rainbow. Happiness will be a direct result of the effort exerted to reach your goal.
Repetition is key
For a new habit to become a habit one has to actually do it over and over again. The very definition of a habit is that it is a routine or behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to reach a stage of being conducted subconsciously. In essence, the act becomes a fixed way of being through repetition. The question is, when is that magical moment when the chore of developing the habit dissipates? Many studies point to a period of 21 days for a habit to stick. Thus, one can set a personal goal of 21 days after which your goal should have become a habit. According to the 21/90 rule in habit-forming, once you have committed yourself to 21 days to establish a habit, continue on for an additional 90 after which your habit should have then become a permanent lifestyle change.
According to experts, there are four stages of forming any type of habit, and they always occur in the same order. They are cue, craving, response and reward. The “cue” initiates the behavior in our brain and predicts a reward. The second stage involves the desire for the reward, which is a “craving” and serves as the motivational force driving the habit, which is ultimately a desire to change our internal states. The third stage is the “response” and in essence, refers to the actual habit. This is where habit-forming can get tricky because it depends on your ability to actually do the habit in question. Thus, it is important to start small with achievable goals that will maintain your motivation and allow you to successfully form a new habit. The goal in mind can always be enhanced as time passes and capabilities increase. If one keeps their target accessible, then they can be continuously “rewarded” for their success, which is the fourth stage of habit-forming. The Japanese concept of Kaizen, which means “continuous improvement” and refers to applying small changes that result in major improvements over time, can also serve as a guideline to growing your goal.
If establishing a new habit is, in fact, the reward, then every time you partake in the habit, you are also being rewarded. Thus, one can enjoy the journey and choose to be happy now, just because you are establishing the habit. The rewards come in a number of ways, and one doesn’t have to wait 21 days to reap them. You can also set goals to achieve with your new habit, such as losing a certain amount of weight or spending a certain amount of time meditating, etc., but you can also plan to reward yourself in a somewhat unrelated way such as going on a retreat or buying a new outfit. The bottom line is that rewards are everything when it comes to creating a new habit; they are what we crave, and achieving them is what satisfies us in the end and makes us happy.
Suggested reading on habit-forming
Considered to be the most important piece of literature for understanding how we form habits and how to change them. This bestseller and multiple book-of-the-year winner, released in 2012, details how habits work with scientific and marketing examples and teaches how to acquire the most important habit which is willpower.
This popular bestseller released in 2018 provides practical guidelines for establishing habits by starting off small. The book also includes a number of relatable stories from successful figures in business, sports, entertainment and medicine, etc.
Released last year by the director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, this bestseller offers a new perspective on how emotions come into play when taking the initial steps to change for good.
One of the most influential self-help books of all time with 30 million copies sold since its release in 1989, this influential bestseller sets forth a number of ideals to strive toward for success in life.
Published in 2017 by a successful performance coach, this book shares the six most important habits to have and how to acquire them.