Eat well. Exercise everyday. Be more productive. Go to sleep earlier. Drink more water. We have all been there…and failed at it. Keeping your new year resolutions strong can prove very hard and frustrating.
So, is there any other, better way to achieve your lifestyle goals?
Building habits may be a tricky task, but trust me – it’s the only system that actually works. And by ‘works’, I mean lasts. Habits are the sensible way to achieving your goals because they are long-lasting, whereas resolutions are premises (often) written down at the spur of the moment.
The thing with new year resolutions is that they tend to be too many and too ambitious. Who wouldn’t want to eat clean every day or sleep eight hours per night? It’s a given. But attempting too much at the same time may lead to short-lived success, if not plain frustration. So, instead of planning an extensive list of achievements for 2019, just write this one down: establish good habits.
They say human beings are creatures of habit, but what does that mean exactly? Our lives are a sum of habits – activities we perform constantly and almost automatically. Over time, actions become habits.
Standing by your resolutions may prove hard because there are no recipes. Every person is different, and what works for you may not work for somebody else. However, there is only one way to pick up a habit (or to lose a bad one, for that matter): repetition, repetition and repetition. But first things first: there is a formation process to every habit, which can be broken into four successive elements.
A trigger gets pulled in your brain, and you feel compelled to do something.
The motivational force behind the habit. Your body feels the need for a change, and acts in consequence.
An action or thought. The actual habit.
What you obtain by performing the response.
Our brains and bodies tend to favor immediate rewards, and this is the tricky part: most of the things that you truly desire, or that are actually good for you, are long-term rewards: getting a promotion, lowering your cholesterol levels…you name it. If the reward is not big enough, the action will not occur. Being very motivated helps, of course, but is it realistic to rely on motivation solely? The biggest issue with new year resolutions lies here, and has to do with motivation and consistency. People spend the last week of the year daydreaming about all they will achieve during the next year because motivation is strong at that point. But once the festive lights of the holidays go out, motivation wears out.
What’s the secret for consistency, then? If our actions are so strongly reward-motivated, then it’s time to find ‘mini rewards’ for every step well taken. It can be material or symbolic: a 30-minute nap after a killer workout, a luxurious bath at the end of a productive day, or just taking a moment to congratulate yourself because you deserve it.
It’s like any learning process, and practice makes perfect. How many times do you have to do something before it becomes a habit? Behavioral science provides an estimate of two months, but who can really say? Once you understand how it works, find out what works for you…and repeat! The fun part is discovering what triggers you, and of course, having fun while at it.
Enjoy the ride!
Agostina Di Domenico
Psychologyst, fitness instructor and content creator from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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