Make Habits, Not Resolutions


Well, it’s that time of year again. New Years Eve - the day when many people look back at the year, reflect on the good and bad, and summarize improvements they want to make into pithy resolutions. “Workout more”, “Lose weight”, “Read more books”, “Call friends more often” - these fortune cookie soundbites typically fuel motivation until around the second week of February, when life gets in the way, and resolutions (and the true hope at improvement) fade.

This year, try something different. Don’t make resolutions - make habits.

Habits are much more powerful. They’re actual activities that drive you toward your goal, instead of vague goals that can’t easily be measured. It’s about managing the activities, not the results, and it’s incredibly powerful.

Here’s the secret I’ve used this year to help me do this, and how I’ll do it in 2016. The trick is all about having a routine.

Let’s look at how it works:

First, decide what you want to do. This is where you can use your resolutions. If you want to lose weight, awesome. Want to read more? Great. Write those down.

Next, it’s time to do the thing that will actually help make these happen - transform your goals into actual action with a routine. In this step, you’ll take your goals and break them down into daily actions that, if engaged in daily, will automatically get you to your goal.

Here’s how you do that. Let’s say you want to “read more books” in 2016. The easiest way to read more books is to…well…read. Everyday. That’s the activity that’ll lead you to the goal. Set a time on it - say, 30 minutes a day - and write it down. The time can be whatever you want. 5 minutes is better than nothing, just as long as you can consistently do it. The key here is that you need to pick an activity that you can do every day, and not make excuses about it. Make it reasonable.

Alright, so now we have a goal (“Read more books”), and an activity that’ll get us to that goal (“Read 30 minutes a day”). The last part is to work that into a repeatable daily routine that’ll help ensure you do it every single day.

This is pretty straightforward, but it’s critical that you think carefully about when you can do it where it’ll never be interrupted. Seriously, it’s important to get this right.

For me, that’s morning. I know that if I don’t do my routine in the morning, the activities and happenings in the day will push my schedule around and I’ll make excuses about why I can’t do it. Pick whatever works for you, but make sure you’re protecting that time every day.

With your routine, you can work several activities/goals into a single routine. This past year (I started this whole thing in June), I wanted to read more and get in better shape. Here’s how I broke that down:

Goals: “Read more books”, “Get in shape/lose weight”

Activities: “Reading: read 30 minutes a day”, “Get in shape: do some kind of activity 30 minutes a day”.

Routine:

  • 7:30a - 8:00a: Workout/run/whatever
  • 8:00a - 8:15a: Cool down, watch the news
  • 8:15a - 8:30a: Shower
  • 8:30a - 9:00a: Read

I do this in the morning, so it never gets pushed around. So far, I’ve done this every week for 6 months, and it’s been a game changer. I’ve cranked through books, and just ran 3.1 miles this morning (when I started, I couldn’t run more than 3 minutes). I feel healthier, smarter, and a whole lot more in control of my self improvement.

The real key to this is to not think in terms of goals. Think in terms of activities, and manage your day-to-day engagement in those activities. It’s easier and much more attainable than big, vague goals, and it’s something you can measure daily from. In addition, because you’re managing daily activities, you won’t deal with the motivation issues that come from only being 10% toward your goal (when it gets tough in mid-Feb).

What’s your routine going to be for this year? Have tricks you use to accomplish your goals or resolutions more easily? Leave them in the comments!

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