September 23, 2020

Forget about new year resolutions. Form habits instead

The end of the year is time to stop and reflect on what happened, good or bad, and plan for next year. Also, is the time to form “new year resolutions. “ Remember those from last year? The ones that you ignored more or less after February? They don’t work because people tend to force themselves to do something they don’t want, don’t fit their schedule, or don’t like to do. So this provides ample opportunity to find excuses not to do them.

The best thing that you can do is to form habits and, with them, strengthen your skills or gain new ones.

I split this idea into two parts. Today I’ll convince you that habits are right for you and tomorrow I’ll give you some examples of how to achieve them. It’s the first time I try to publish two articles in 2 days, so this is, in sorts, something of a new habit that I’m trying to push myself in providing better and more frequent content for you.

The power of habits

Your most potent ally in starting something and stick with it is to have a habit. It takes time to form a new habit (66 days if you trust some studies), but creating a habit is much more lasting than just trying to achieve something right away. Think about it. If you want to be a world-class runner, you don’t start with a marathon. You start by making a habit of running every week to improve over time. It will allow you to get progressively to the level you want. So here are the critical things to consider:

  1. Define what you want. “I want to run a 5k”, “I want to learn about X,” “I want to be able to leave work on time.” It’s essential to write down what you “want” not what you “would like to do. “ Wishes don’t become anything without action, and it’s hard to form a new habit by itself, so if you don’t want it, you’ll fail.
  2. Make it easy at first. Let’s take the run analogy. Start by booking a couple of races a week for 2k. If this is too much, start with less distance, not less frequency. It’s essential to create a pace that works for yourself. Otherwise, you won’t progress. I always recommend at least two times a week.
  3. Make it challenging. Set the improvement goals. For example, increase 500m every week. It will and will allow you to have constant improvement. Otherwise, you’ll always stay in the same place.
  4. Know when to rest. Pay special attention to when you’re doing something to do it or because you’re in a physical and physiological state to do it. It doesn’t make sense for you to run and injure yourself, and it doesn’t make sense to do something that will make you sad or depressed. I want you to rest not to quit.
  5. Know when to force yourself to act. Combat laziness. Sometimes you’re more than healthy to go for a run, but you don’t want to. These are the most important moments for you to go and do it. These moments will allow building the mental toughness so that next time you can think “last time I didn’t want to go, but I ran anyway, and it felt awesome in the end.” With these essential steps, you’ll generate motivation to keep going.
  6. Make it recurrent. I touched this before. Try to make things frequent and repetitive. You’ll know that you have to run on that day, so there’s no thinking or decision process involved. You do it and go. Recurrence also allows you to improve faster. Running only once a month is good, but it won’t take you anywhere.

So how habits are different than goals?

As you saw before, habits are just goals in disguise. You have mini-goals that you define and help you make something into your daily life. Big goals are a lot easier if you break them down into smaller ones. And if the smaller ones are habits, you’ll achieve the big ones without even knowing, or at least a lot easier, since you’re frequently working to make them.

I like technology, so I use a couple of apps to help me keep track of my goals.

  1. Streaks – I’ve used this app for a while, and it’s terrific for keeping track of automatic habits. For example, I control my activity using my Apple Watch, but since it syncs back to my phone, Streaks picks up the data and tells me if I achieved the objective or not. There’s a hard limitation of 12 habits, but if you can work on 12 habits, you’ll be on your way to be successful. Some things I track are:
    1. Close activity circles daily.
    2. Run 2 times a week
    3. Do 10 minutes of Yoga daily.
    4. Do 10 minutes of Meditation daily.
  2. Done – This one is much more flexible and allows for monthly and yearly objectives, but the automatic tracking is much worse. You can use it for things you want to keep track of and have to insert manually. Here are some examples:
    1. Go to one conference a year
    2. Meet one new person a month
    3. Schedule five new articles a month in this site
    4. Read 30 books a year
    5. Write 6000 words a week.
  3. HabitMinder – I like this app a lot. You can track stuff automatically, and the UI is excellent. The only issue I have with it is that it is focused on daily habits only, so you can’t define weekly or monthly habits quickly unless you break them down into daily tasks.

 

See you in 2020 for the second part of this article. I’ll show you how to put all of this into practice and provide lots of examples and cool stuff for you to check out.

Have fun tonight!

Have a suggestion of your own or disagree with something I said? Leave a comment or interact on Twitter and be sure to check out other Productivity-related articles here.

Photo by Melanie Hughes on Unsplash

Manuel Gomes

I'm a Project Manager with experience in large projects and companies. I've worked in the past for companies like Bayer, Sybase (now SAP) and I'm currently working for Pestana Hotel Group.

View all posts by Manuel Gomes →

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