We’re seven weeks into the new year, and the January crowds at your gym or yoga class are probably starting to thin out now. Many people’s New Year’s goals have been set aside, maybe due to unrealistic expectations, or to the variety of unexpected obstacles (snow days, sickness, etc) that can get in the way of new habits.
But you don’t need to wait until next January to try to create a positive new habit -- and in fact, research has shown that successfully creating a new habit helps you then make positive changes in other areas of your life. For example, study participants who followed a program of regular exercise for two months also improved other behaviors, such as keeping commitments, doing household chores, and eating more healthfully. Other studies have showed similar effects with different targeted habits. Basically, if you develop your powers of self-regulation through creating any new habit, you’re then more likely to exert self-regulation in other areas.
There are three components to successfully creating a new habit:
- Understand why you want to start this habit. Connecting a new behavior to a larger value or goal will make it more meaningful. What will motivate you might be different from what will motivate someone else: for one person, running three times a week is important for creating better health; for someone else, it contributes to a competitive goal of running a half marathon; and for another, it’s about calming the mind and relieving stress.
- Clearly define a realistic target for the new behavior that can be counted or measured: not just “I’m going to work out more this month,” but “I’m going to go to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes.” When you’re clear about the target, then you can know whether or not you were successful.
- Track your actions: only by tracking can you know how well you’re doing. By tracking your behavior around your new habit you can see what helps you be successful and fine tune your targets. For example, maybe you set a goal of going to the gym five days a week, but after two weeks of trying this, you realize that you’re always too tired on Tuesdays to make it to the gym. A more realistic and achievable goal might be to aim for four days per week, or to readjust your weekend schedule to let you go to the gym on the weekend. Tracking also builds motivation to be more consistent, especially for daily habits -- as Jerry Seinfeld famously says, “don’t break the chain.” A simple check mark on your paper or digital calendar works well, but you can also use a spreadsheet or a variety of tracking apps and tools (which I’ll write more about in my next post).
What positive habit are you working on right now? Let us know in the comments!
[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Pasji horizont]