For those longing to make a lifestyle change in this New Year, here are four evidence-based actions from the science of habit formation and goal attainment to help you be successful.
Behavior change is hard. It works when you make a decision. You can build an optimal relationship with your everyday behaviors so that you take your mind out of the equation. Tie your habits to your values and identity. In the beginning, they need only be aspirational and not even true, yet.
Start simple, like in the following examples:
I am a person who…
- moves her body everyday
- has great relationships with his co-workers
- doesn’t waste his life on social media
- manages her anxiety
While New Year’s is arbitrary, having a start date motivates aspirational behavior – a new week, month or birthday, according to a study on the “fresh-start” effect. A new (2020) large study on habits found that starting new habits is far easier than dropping unhealthy ones, so prepare for more challenge when you decide to avoid or drop behaviors in 2021.
Consider 30-day challenges of consistency rather than a year or a lifetime. Shortening your time horizon can make those tough goals more attainable. If you want to change your eating habits, start a vigorous exercise regime, and fix a troubled relationship, you may be too ambitious. Laser focus on one at a time, and only add another habit once successful. Click here for a short video on baby steps.
Habit-stacking is when you link a new behavior to a current habit you already have. Created by Stanford habit scientist BJ Fogg, you can deploy the “When-Then” formula.
When I set the coffee to brew, I will then meditate for 10 minutes.
When I finish dinner, I will then floss my teeth to eliminate nighttime eating.
When I finish my workday, I will then turn off my phone.
The main point of habits is to reduce your cognitive load on everyday actions to free your mind up for the more important stuff. Do not rely on willpower as it is unreliable and over time will fail. If you pay attention to a small change then you won’t have to muster motivation to grow it. It will just happen naturally, like a seed planted in a good spot.
The events of 2020 hit us all at the same time, but impacted us uniquely and unevenly. If you have been hit hard and are struggling mightily, getting through this year is enough. There is real victory in that.
The most important investment you can make is in yourself. Warren Buffet
Habit model: Trigger, Ability and Motivation.