As we all plan to ring in the new year once again, the ever popular “resolutioners” rear their ugly heads. Every single one of them itching to tell you their big plans come the start of the next 12 months. But, as is common with resolutions, most will fall to the wayside come February. Grand conquests crumble within days of embarkment and aspirations disappear like the wind. Why does this happen?
We Fall To The Level Of Our Systems
We’re human. It’s a gift and a curse. As humans, we tend to fall to our system of habits and ritual behaviors. Our systems have been built over time, whether for better or worse, and conditioned as the path of least resistance to accomplishing our daily endeavors. However, there is hope. Much like how we built our current systems of habit, we also possess the ability to rewire them for the better. To do so, we must create a sustainable system that, over time, leads to gradual progress. If too complex, we will fail. If too uncomfortable, we will fail. If too tedious, we will fail. We must prioritize building a sustainable system over the grandeur of goals. We will do this by focusing on 4 key concepts:
Make Your Habits Obvious
Make Your Habits Attractive
Make Your Habits Easy
Make Your Habits Enjoyable
1) Make Your Habits Obvious
Out of sight, out of mind. That’s great for crushing bad habits, but kills our ability to form new ones. Instead we need to make sure desired habits are as obvious as possible (sirens, whistles and flares are all encouraged). Most times, it’s easiest to hide desired habits in plain sight. We can do this by habit stacking or making cues obvious.
Essentially what you do is stack what you want to do on top of what you already do. For example, if you wish to read more during the day, you might ensure you read your book after your morning coffee. You already have a coffee when you wake up so assimilating something new after something regular can make habit formation easier. Over time, you can gradual build more habits through multiple facets of your routine.
You want to setup your environment for success. If we use the same reading example, you might decide to put your book next to your morning coffee mug or add a note on your daily calendar. This ensures visual attention and makes it harder to ignore. As you continue to drink coffee and open your book, you become habitual in associating your java juice with knowledge gains. Sip coffee, read. Straightforward.
2) Make Habits Attractive
The more appealing something seems, the more likely we are to want to do it. This can be done using environmental factors (i.e.: social acceptance) or a simple reward based system. If we tend to gain something by doing, we usually are more open to doing it again.
Surround yourself with those more successful and you too will find success. The old saying reigns true when looking to form new habits. By surrounding yourself with others currently exemplifying your desired habits, you become more inclined to try to “fit in”. This behavioral characteristic encourages us to do our wanted behaviors so as to blend in (and become accepted) in our environment. If looking to read more, you might join a book club or frequent a café where there are other folks constantly reading as a norm in their daily routines.
This method is very similar to habit stacking, just with an extra step. With this method, we add a reward once our desired habit has been completed. Using the reading example, we may have our morning coffee, read our book and then enjoy a relaxing bath afterwards. This rewarding of our own behavior entices us to continue to do it so as to enjoy something we like afterwards. In this case, reading your book earns us a relaxing bath. When choosing rewards, try to stay in line with your habitual systems. There’s no point in rewarding exercise with donuts if you’re trying to encourage fat loss.
3) Make Habits Easy
Easier tasks get accomplished, task completion builds confidence, confidence leads to higher repetitive success. It’s that simple. If we find ways to make new habits easier to complete, we are more likely to keep doing them. The path of least resistance reigns supreme.
The less steps required to initiate new habits create a more successful environment to do them with a lower chance of failure. As we did when setting up our environment for success, we can take it a step further by reducing the amount of steps required to initiate change. For example, you put your book next to your coffee mug. Good start, but we can make it even easier. Set your coffee maker the night before and have the book open to the page you wish to read. When you go to get your morning coffee, you’ll be ready to go.
It’s always better to undershoot than overkill. Starting small while being consistent is better than going for broke with no adherence. The two-minute rule ensures your habit can be completed in a short time frame to encourage repetition. Quantifying your habits can make this easier. For example, you drink your cup of coffee and you read 3 pages of your book. That’s it. You’ll probably want to do more or keep reading. This is a good thing. However, it’s better to stop while you’re ahead. The desire to do more will encourage you to repeat your efforts next time. In this case, you read 3 pages, get satisfaction from completing them and look forward to doing it again next morning. As with any recommendation, you can more or less to accomplish as you see fit.
4) Make Habits Enjoyable
Consistent completion leads to feelings of accomplishment. Feeling productive or successful is enjoyable to us and encourages repeated behavior. A simple way to elicit this feeling is through habit tracking. Whether it be using an agenda, digital app or simply putting stickers on your calendar, tracking successful completion of your desired habits brings feelings of enjoyment. Visual representation makes it fun and encourages you to not “break the chain” of success.
What If I “Fall Off the Wagon”?
While following the above pillars, there shouldn’t really be a point where you drastically “fail” so to speak. However, should you break your success chain, smile, shrug and move on. Good rule of thumb is to never miss twice. Life happens, we’re all very familiar with this fact in the year 2020. Family emergencies, unexpected work projects or sudden shutdowns can all throw a monkeywrench in one’s routine. Should something occur, shake it off, regroup and get back on track (modify your rails if you need). Stop the snowball with a flamethrower.
Changing habits is no easy feat, but you can certainly make it easier. Remember, success is not one big breakthrough moment. Success is repetitive reliance on sound systems. Know that doing 1% better everyday does add up to something of significance. Whether you move dirt with a shovel or with a spoon, you still move dirt. Enjoy the journey, for if you don’t, you can bet the destination won’t be much better.
Looking for a quick summary? Check out our YouTube presentation below.
Matrixx is the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Iron Performance Center. He specializes in adolescent athletic development and coaches some of the top athlete prospects coming out of high school in the Niagara region. Matrixx also works with dedicated members of the community who are passionate about improving personal fitness. He is the author of The Iron Guide to Building Muscle, was featured in YourWorkoutBook.comfor his rowing strength program and has his articles displayed in multiple college curriculums.