Why I create habits, and other new year’s resolution tips
This post originally appeared here as my Medium article.
It’s 2017, and many people are going to be starting (or starting to think about) their new year’s resolutions saying “New year, new me!” But, as the common stereotype goes, these new year’s resolutions will probably be quickly forgotten by February. Or perhaps even the middle of January… In this short piece I’ll explain several principle and methods I use to make effective goals that I stick to based on the research I’ve read and the experience I’ve had over the years.
These are several of my new year’s resolutions from the past two years and the rate of success I had in keeping them.
Resolution: Take better care of my skin.
Result: (Success!) I applied moisturizer twice a day, once upon waking, once before going to bed. Also I applied sunscreen whenever I went out.
Resolution: Practice guitar at least 30 minutes a week, Mondays preferably:
Result: (Success!) I practiced way over 30 minutes a week, on multiple days rather than just Mondays.
Resolution: Go to at least one Krav Maga lesson per week.
Result: (Mostly successful) I usually went on Saturday mornings because that was the most convenient time for me, but sometimes I didn’t feel like it and thought I could go to another during the week. Alas, I did not end up going.
Resolution: Read more.
Result: (Little success) I designated Wednesday for my reading days, where I would read ‘something’. Sometimes I would read a book, and sometimes I’d just read an article I wanted to read, but most of the time I found myself reading listicles and silly things on social media, which I rationalised. Looking back, that really shouldn’t count as reading.
Why did some work and others didn’t?
Many of you have probably heard about S.M.A.R.T goals, in school, or in various articles, but it works so it’s worth revisiting. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, action-based, reachable, and time-based. Goals that are S.M.A.R.T. are more likely to be achieved.
Let’s take a look at my successful skincare resolution:
- It was specific, because I decided to focus on moisturizing and sunscreen.
- It was measurable because either I applied moisturizer or I didn’t — success and failure was easy to measure.
- It was action-based because it was based on an action: applying moisturizer or sunscreen, rather than something vague like be nice.
- It was reachable because it was a simple task I can achieve, versus something like win the lottery.
- Finally it was time-based because I set a specific time, upon waking or going to bed for moisturizer, and before going out for sunscreen.
In contrast, you can see my failed resolution: Read more, was not very S.M.A.R.T. I still had some success though because I did set a time to work on it: Wednesdays. However it was far less successful than my skincare resolution.
Another great way to keep to resolutions and goals is to make working toward them a habit. I love habits, and as some of you might know. Habits are great because they take decision-making out of the equation, and the whole task becomes automatic. It becomes something that you just do rather than something you have to think about (and agonize over). The less you overthink something, the more likely you’ll do it.
My skincare resolution worked because I turned it into a habit. It became a daily ritual. I would jump out of bed, and before my eyes are fully opened I’m washing my face, and applying moisturizer. And now, after I brush my teeth, I again wash my face and apply moisturizer. It has now become a habit much the way most of us brush our teeth before bed. In fact, as Charles Duhigg says in his book The Power of Habit (amazing read by the way), the easiest way to form habits its to latch it onto another habit. In this case, I’ve just created a habit chain of
shower → brush teeth → wash face → apply moisturizer.
Just get started:
Another principle is what I like to call just get started. We often feel overwhelmed before starting a goal or resolution, perhaps the gym is intimidating, the project you’re working on is too complex, and so we procrastinate. Oh I’ll do it tomorrow when I’m better planned, or I’ll go to the gym tomorrow when I’m better rested you tell yourself, but come tomorrow, you tell yourself the same thing and nothing gets done.
The just get started principle encourages you to, well, just get started. You can get go and do anything, maybe you want to start working out but you really don’t feel like it. Then just go to the gym, and if you still don’t feel like it, you can leave. I had the idea for this article last night to write this morning, but before starting writing this, I wanted to put this off, but I told myself “Just get started” and here I am, an hour later, about to finish this article (all good things must come to an end, I’m afraid). Oftentimes we feel intimidated before we start, but once we do, we pick up momentum and it becomes easier. As Mark Manson says in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, starting is often the hardest part. However, if you just get started, you find that it’s easier to keep going. Such is the power of small wins.
This is what happened with my other resolutions above (guitar practice, Krav Maga, and reading). When I first started off with guitar, I was intimidated, as I was with Krav Maga, or starting a new book. But I just got started and found that after that things got a lot easier. Just get started, it works, and every time it gets easier to start.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Let’s make it a habit to just get started on all of our S.M.A.R.T. goals and resolutions!
About me: I am a NYC-based UX designer and front end developer. Human behavior fascinates me. I often write about user experience design, information design & architecture, productivity systems, and personal development. Find more at my website: www.adrianlin.com, find me on LinkedIn, or follow me onTwitter.