Resolutions Don’t Work. Habits Do.
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Ashdin Doctor aka The Habit Coach is the author of today’s edition. He is the founder of Awesome 180 where he works on rewiring your brain to help you form healthier habits and lead a better lifestyle.
We often see the first week of January as a milestone.
Resolutions are made (probably the same list as last year?)
Gyms are full for the first week (and empty after that?)
Instagram is full of “New Year New Me” posts (funded by some brand or another?)
While a Monday is like tearing off a paper from your notebook to start afresh, the first week of January feels like buying a brand new notebook—a clean slate, 52 Mondays full of possibilities and hope. January can make you feel like you are beginning a new life.
I use this time as an anchor point to make big directional changes in my life. For example, in 2022, my goal was to read a hundred books. By December-end, I’d finished reading 108 books. So you see, if used correctly, this time of year has the energy to rocket your life forward.
But most of the time, this energy fizzles out and dies.
The problem? No one teaches us how to translate this ‘New Year hope’ into real change. We rely on New Year’s resolutions. Which don’t work.
I am a habit coach, and I’ve observed that only 8 to 10 per cent of resolutions are actually achieved. There are often two reasons behind this: resolutions are either set with unrealistic expectations and hence become too difficult to achieve (I will travel to 783 countries), or they are too vague (I will travel more).
Most resolutions are discarded by February and become a part of our wishful thinking. No one teaches us that we need a solid plan, not just a resolution.
So, this January, instead of setting unattainable resolutions, please focus on two things: well-defined goals and building habits that help you achieve them. Let’s see how.
Start with your why
Setting your new year goal starts by clearly understanding why you want to achieve that goal. Most of us set goals based on what others think or are doing.
As your Habit Coach, I want you to have a clear intention before setting a goal. A clear “why” — an intention so strong that it pushes you to action on days you feel tired, low, or lazy. Your intention is the cornerstone for achieving a goal or not.
For example, if your goal was to work on sleeping early. A process for creating a solid intention is this:
Start by asking yourself “why” multiple times.
“Why do I want to sleep early?…So that I can wake up early.”
“Why do I want to wake up early?…So that I can finish my work uninterrupted.”
“Why do I want to finish my work uninterrupted?…So that I can get a promotion.”
“Why do I want a promotion?…So I can take my child on holiday”.
Do you see how powerful the intention is now? It is no longer about just waking up in the morning. It is about taking your child on holiday. The intent supercharges your goals.
Building good habits
Next, you need to create a plan. And a plan is nothing but the habits you will create to achieve your goal.
Most of our habits were unconsciously created—habits we picked up from our parents and friends. We looked at how they did things and followed along without thinking. We did not choose these habits, and as a result, these habits are often not aligned with our goals.
As your habit coach, I want you to move from unconscious to conscious habits. These are habits aligned with the goals you have chosen to serve you and will make you take charge of your life.
To form habits, you must follow the three golden rules of habit change — three rules I created while working with my clients. These rules helped them make the habit changes necessary for their awesome life.
Golden Rule #1: Make it Stupidly Small
This is when you choose the action you will be doing. The goal here is to select an act so small, so tiny that you “feel stupid not doing it”. It should not take more than a few minutes to complete and should require almost no effort.
For example, the habit of running is not about going for a 5k run. The stupidly small running habit starts with just putting on your running shoes. For most, the battle to exercise is lost at this stage. If you can put on your shoes, the chances of you going for that run increase dramatically. And it is such a small action that you feel stupid not being able to do it.
Golden Rule #2: Make it Easy
This rule helps you remove the excuses and the friction from doing the habit. It should become so easy to execute that there are no excuses left for not doing it.
Imagine if your running shoes were kept in a box on top of a cupboard, and you needed a ladder to get at them each time. Can you sustain that habit of putting on your running shoes? It would be tough to do.
While I know this is an extreme example, we often do just this. We join a gym that takes us 45 minutes to reach. We keep the junk food out on the dining room table and the healthy food stored in a cupboard.
By making it extremely easy, you are improving your chances of getting the habit done. You are removing the friction from the process and eliminating the excuses. If we don’t make it easy, we become very good at making excuses.
So every time you make the habit ask yourself: how could I make this easier to do?
Golden Rule #3: Never miss two days in a row
This is the rule that helps you build consistency. Consistency is the key to making a change in your life. There is no point doing something for a few days in spurts. If you want to achieve your goals, you need to be consistent in the habits you form.
The idea is not to force the habit every day. We are human beings and sometimes life gets in the way. It is perfectly fine to miss doing the habit on a particular day. Don’t feel guilty or beat yourself up for missing the habit on that specific day. Your habit coach has given you full permission to miss it.
However, come what may, the habit must be completed the next day.
Say you consistently did the habit on Monday and Tuesday. But on Wednesday, you felt unwell. No problem. Skip Wednesday. But come what may, do the smallest possible action on Thursday to maintain that habit.
If you miss the habits two days in a row, “missing” becomes the new habit! This is why cheat weekends don’t work. You end up missing two days in a row, so starting again on Monday becomes very hard. Plan your life so that you never miss two days in a row.
So start the new year with goals leading to that awesome life. Ditch the resolutions, as they are just wishful thinking.
As your habit coach, I want to see you achieve all the goals you set for this coming year! So set your intentions correctly and use the three golden rules of habit change to make these goals stick.
1. An excellent way to stay consistent is to track your habits. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, has a simple habit tracker that you can use to build accountability. You can find it here.
2. Author Maria Konnikowa delves into the seductive allure of starting a new habit on a Monday or in January in this New Yorker article. A new week or the beginning of a month is a ‘notional boundary’ for us, and this is what makes us feel more optimistic about our ability to stick to our goals. But this optimism is a trap as it leads to a higher chance of failure. Read this piece to better understand why resolutions fail.
3. It isn’t easy forming a new habit. Period. But it’s even harder getting over old ones. Right? But what if you understood the brain to better play this game? This is what neuroscientist Andrew Huberman’s podcast episode does. Huberman dives deep into the brain and tells you how you can not just build but consolidate new habits.
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