January is inevitably the time of year where you seek to make new habits that will change the way you look or feel. It could be plans to eat healthier or a particular style of diet. It could be a new exercise regimen, getting more sleep, enjoying greater social interactions, using technology less, travelling more, stressing less, learning a new language or instrument.
The majority of these best-laid plans often fail. That is the reality. However, far from being defeatist about that prospect, here I will discuss the best ways to put these into sustainable action, for the long-term.
I’ve used some of my downtime over the festive period to read ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. It’s a book which discusses how, amongst other things, to set up your environment for the best chance of adopting a new habit. In discussing some of his ideas, look to apply them to ensure that your 2020 wishes come to fruition. Here are 4 tips on how to create sustainable habits.
You don’t want to have to remember what your new goal was. So many of us do this. We have the best ideas but then two months in we forget what we were working towards. One tip is to make a list of where the new habit will fit into your day or week. The more obvious it is the better. To stack it onto a current habit makes it even more effective. For example, I will go out for a run as soon as I get back home from work every day. Or, after my dinner each evening, I will not look at my phone or emails anymore. By stacking a current habit (eating dinner and returning home from work) to the new one, it ensures that everyday there is an obvious time to perform the new one.
The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. Now, this isn’t the cue for the ‘if I exercise, I can follow it up with a bottle of wine’ argument. However, its about applying some element of daily enjoyment into the habits. The things you want to do mixed with those you need to. An example would be that if you are watching a Netflix series, you apply a new habit to this. For example, When I do my 30 minutes of Spanish study, I can then watch an episode on Netflix. That way, you begin to link the enjoyable aspect (sitting and watching Netflix) with the habit you are trying to implement (learning your foreign language).
Starting something new, and perhaps something that has failed to take off in the past, isn’t an easy prospect. If losing weight, giving up alcohol, learning a new language were easy, we’d all be multi-lingual, ripped, tee-totallers! So, make life as easy as possible. Make the environment as easy for you as possible. If you are planning on running straight after work, ensure the gym kit and trainers are by the door when you get in. If you are learning the guitar, place it in the centre of your living room. If you are not eating sweets, ensure every sweet is out of the house, not just out of your immediate sight.
We are in constant need of instant gratification. Those who slow this process down are usually the most stable and successful. However, it is hard as instant gratification is our constant craving – that’s why phones ‘bing’ with messages. They want your endorphin release that comes with a new message. You then seek further manipulation of this impulse through receiving more and more messages. The result – addiction. The same applies to sex, alcohol, drugs and more. However, delaying gratification is one of the main reasons it is hard to give up on things that we know we should! The solution: apply instant gratification positively. For example, every time you go to the gym, or every occasion you refuse that Deliveroo option, transfer a pre-defined amount of money into your ‘Special holiday’ account. Watching those numbers accumulate based on your good behaviour adds another layer of motivation to make the habit a long-term one.
Applying these four principles to your new habit for 2020 will optimise your chances of making it successful. But you will fail. At some point. You’ll miss a session, you’ll eat a bad meal, you’ll drink when you shouldn’t. The key: make sure you don’t ever do it twice in a row! Don’t beat yourself up for stumbling but take back control before you fall.
This year can be different.
It doesn’t have to be like every other New Year’s resolution.
You’re in control of it. Make it happen.
About the author
Darren O’Toole is lead personal trainer at Dynamic Fitness Training, a fitness writer, tutor and assessor for YMCAfit. For more training advice, health tips, or to hire him as a personal trainer, get in touch today. Fill in a form on our website or give him a call on 07772 538 819.