Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Wow – can you believe this is the last post of the year? Where has this year gone?
'Tis the season to set New Year’s Resolutions and that means new habits. So, of course, that has been on my mind a lot. I have started a few different habits this year and have some ideas on what has worked and what has not, so I thought I would share some of those with you, in case it helps you as you start on this new year. (PS Have you joined my Journal Challenge?)
As some of you know, I am a researcher. I must confess, I went on a bit of a rampage – devouring a few podcasts that were interviewing James Clear, author of Atomic Habits and he said a couple of things that I found extremely eye-opening.
Tip 1: Take it 1% at a Time
“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”
This stood out to me – how many times do we talk about the goal, without putting much thought into the systems. That’s the epitome of most new goals. We think about the goal, without thinking about how we are going to get to them.
A while ago, a project manager friend helped me when I had a goal that felt overwhelming. She broke it down for me into micro-steps – suddenly, the goal didn’t feel as scary. It is the same thing with habits.
“Getting 1 percent better every day counts for a lot in the long-run.” He talks about breaking down habits into extremely small chunks. So, if your goal is to write 3 pages every morning (inspired by one of the pillars of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), perhaps you start by sitting down and writing 1 sentence every day – do that for a few days or weeks, until that part is a habit – then add a little more. Slowly build by 1% until you reach your goal. The 1% doesn’t seem scary and before you know it, you’ll have made real, significant progress towards your goal – and be more successful at it.
Tip 2: Stack your Habits
“One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top.”
I thought this was the biggest nugget I got from the conversations I listened to. Since journaling is top of mind for me, let me give that as an example. Say you want to write in your journal every morning. Think about your current morning routine. Mine is I wake up, take my dog out for a pee break, give her breakfast, then go to the washroom myself. Once I come out, I put the coffee machine on - to me that is the perfect place to insert my new habit. So once I put the coffee machine on, I sit at my desk and write.
Tip 3: Make It Easy
“Reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy.”
What can you do to make it easier? Perhaps you make a point of leaving your journal right next to the coffee machine, so that you will see it as you make your coffee, reminding you that you need to write in it? For me, I made sure to put my laptop away in a drawer at the end of the workday and place my journal on the desk so that when I wake up in the morning it is visible and is sitting there -waiting to be written in!
Another great example came from one of you! I had a question the other day – where the objection was that the person found their own handwriting distracting – they understood the possible value of keeping a journal but whenever they tried to start, they hated their own handwriting so much that they ended up not keeping up with the habit and they found that they process things better by talking out loud – my suggestion – how about if you use the voice recorder on your phone and record your voice instead? You could potentially use an app to convert that to a document if you want a “written” copy.
Tip 4: Track Your Progress
“Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress.”
There is something so satisfying about placing a mark on a paper to signify “Yes! I did it!”. From childhood, a gold star is a sign of doing something right and that sticks with us. So whether it is an X on your calendar or a fancy habit tracker, keeping track is a great idea.
What else would you add to this list? What do you think sets us up for success when starting a new habit?