New Year, New Habits

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After a full revolution around the sun we mark off the new year and begin planning for our next trip around the sun. This post is to serve as a reminder that FAILURE is a part of the journey to achieving our goals. When we set a goal, we must accept that we will also make mistakes.

It is natural to feel disappointed, upset, and angry when we fail. I believe that this is a result of our poor expectations. We set a goal and expect to achieve it quickly. We see every set back and mistake as utter failure. It becomes easy to lose the desire to try again.

We are creatures of habit, but habits are built over time. When we examine our behaviors and the emotions connected to them, we find that these behaviors are the result of years of self-reinforcement. Even bad habits are results of years of positive reinforcement.

A plastic surgeon in the 50s, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, concluded that it took his patients a minimum of 21 days before they got used to their new face or an amputation. Over the next several decades, people dropped the word “minimum” and took this as fact: It takes 21 days to create a new habit. This isn’t the whole truth. I’d wager that a patient recovering from plastic surgery has to see and feel the reality of their new body far more often than you have to face the reality of a new habit like running a couple of times a week or losing weight. It takes a person with a new nose a minimum of 21 days to get used to what’s on their face all day long every single day.

So what does that mean for us? I want to lose weight by changing my diet but doing that is so hard. How long do I have to wait before it becomes a habit?

In a more recent study, habit formation seems to take an average of 66 days. That’s just over 2 months of consciously doing something over and over before it starts to feel natural, and that’s just the average. On the higher end of the scale, it took some participants up to 254 days to fully develop a habit. What does this tell us? That it takes time.

Now that we understand new habits take time and we need consistency and patience to utilize that time, we can focus on the other part of the problem with sticking to our goals.

Setting short term goals.

An important takeaway from the study above is that the researchers note that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” This is good news for us. We can make mistakes and still achieve our goal. However, it becomes easy to set big goals for ourselves and become discouraged when we make mistakes. Instead, we should reassess our goals by checking our expectations. By setting short-term smaller goals, we can make it easier to get more wins and focus less on the setbacks.

Here’s my advice. Replacing a habit is easier than erasing a habit. If you want to stop drinking soda, commit to drink more water instead. If you want to quit smoking, focus on taking a morning walk instead of a morning cigarette. Look for ways to replace bad habits with good ones instead of just trying to quit the bad one.

One more thing. A year is a long time. Big goals are hard. It’s going to make all your small missteps seem so much bigger and discourage you further. Start with daily goals. Becoming a vegan is difficult. Instead, your goal should be to learn a vegan recipe and make it for yourself tomorrow. Learn new recipes one at a time and slowly replace what you eat with more vegan dishes. Running a 5k is daunting if you haven’t ran in years. Instead, take a walk today. Take a walk tomorrow. Walk a little further one day. Feeling good today? Try a jog.

I’m not someone who thinks the new year changes much on its own. However, I am constantly working on myself and looking for ways to keep progressing in any area of my life and I love to encourage others when they get the fire for change. We’re all changing all the time. It’s up to you to decide to seize that change and make it into something better for yourself. Today is our opportunity. Let’s take it.