So we’re almost at the middle of the month...did you make any New Year’s resolutions? How are you doing with them?
The start of a new calendar year and a new academic semester offer all kinds of possibilities. It’s a hopeful time of year as many people feel empowered to make resolutions or create new behaviors. But without making conscious, repeated choices to do something new, most people quickly fall back into their default habits and routines, especially once confronted with stressful situations. If you haven’t been so successful with your resolutions, here’s a strategy to help you successfully create a new habit or behavior.
- Pick one goal: It can be tempting to want to make changes in several areas at once: maybe you want to write more, sleep better, spend more time with your kids, and exercise more consistently. All of those are valuable goals. But trying to change all of them at one time can be really difficult. So just pick one of those areas to focus on at first. Ask yourself, which one would have the most impact? Which would make the most difference in creating the life you want to be living?
- Define a small action towards that goal: What’s one thing that you could do consistently that would help you make progress towards your goal? Getting really specific about the time, place, and quantity for this action is important so that you can know when you’ve accomplished your action for the day. Ask yourself, how will I know whether I’ve accomplished this action? Say, for example, you want to write more this semester. To just head into the week saying “I’m going to write more” is too vague. A more specific action step could be defined as “I’m going to write for 30 minutes at 8:00 am Monday-Thursday.” Keep refining it down until it’s very specific and measurable.
- Track your success: A valuable tool for habit change is recording your success at doing your specific action. To continue with the writing example, you could put a check mark on your calendar each weekday Monday-Thursday when you complete your 30 minutes of writing. I often put stickers on a wall calendar when I’m starting a new habit. A good digital way of doing this is the habit tracking app Chains.cc, which offers a visually appealing interface. As you build up successive days for your defined habit, you can see your success and it tends to make you want to continue your new habit. Another option is the tool iDoneThis, which emails you every day to ask you what you’ve done that day.
- Get support: Find someone else who wants to make a behavioral change (it doesn’t have to be the same one) and support each other. Work through the process of clearly defining your daily action so that each of you understand what it is. (That’s a good way to discover whether you’ve defined it specifically enough.) In addition to marking it off on your calendar or tracking app, sending a text or email to your accountability partner when you’ve completed your 30 minutes of writing can also help reinforce your new habit. Or get several of your Facebook or Twitter friends on board!
What new habit would you like to begin creating this year? Let us know in the comments!
[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Alois Staudacher]