It takes at least three weeks to build a habit. With 2019 around the corner, here’s how to hit the ground running.
Hands up if you’ve ever promised yourself to quit smoking, set a budget (and actually stick to it), hit the gym, or spend more time with family and friends.
Damn. Writing that was tough with both hands in the air.
We’ve all set our New Year’s Resolutions with the best of intentions, genuinely dedicated to making this the year where we follow through.
I will hit the gym 5 days a week. I will ditch the takeout and start brown-bagging my lunch. I will trade Netflix binges for quality time with loved ones.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about resolutions. To be honest, I’m a bit torn about the concept in general. On one hand, I truly believe in the benefits of setting goals and having something to work towards. But on the other, I loathe the idea of using January 1st as a date to anchor your goals around. If there’s something you want to accomplish — whether that’s learning a new skill or getting in shape — why wait until the new year to get started?
Now, all of that said, a new year is a nice fresh start and as good a time as any to get in gear and make a change. According to a bunch of research, it takes around 21 days to develop a habit that actually sticks. With 2018 winding down, here’s how you can start working towards your resolutions today and hit the ground running in the new year.
Good things come to those who don’t wait
Building a habit takes time. If you wait until January 1, you’re giving yourself an easy out. The gym is packed, so you can’t use your favourite elliptical. Dinner is 4 taps away with Uber Eats, so you skip the grocery store this week. Your post-holiday credit card bill is stressful, and cigarettes calm the anxiety.
If you start today, you’re ahead of the pack. If it takes you 3 weeks to build a habit, your goal will be fully adopted by January 1st, when everybody else is swearing that “this year is going to be different.” While they’re struggling to get through their first workout, you’ve already found your stride. You’re comfortable enough to find a different exercise while they’re slogging away on the elliptical you’ve been using.
But look; this isn’t a chance to say “I’m better than them”. We shouldn’t strive to be better than the next person; just work to be better than we were yesterday. On Monday, you could run 1km without stopping. On Tuesday, you can run 1.5km without stopping. That’s progress, and that’s amazing.
This is an opportunity for you to not only be a better you, but to help others become a better them. Find communities and support other people who are trying to get better. If you can’t find any local groups or networks, create one.
Whatever you’re passionate about, there are others out there who feel the same way. Be the positive force they need.
Setting the right goals
The hardest thing about setting goals isn’t about not just setting goals, but setting the right goals. You can set goals left and right, but setting the right goals is the key.
Deciding to complete an Ironman is tough if you aren’t already a swimmer, cyclist, and runner. In fact, I’d say it’s damn near impossible. Swim for 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run a marathon? Get the hell out of here.
However, if you set smaller, more manageable goals, like running 5km, swimming 4 or 5 laps without stopping, or biking for 15km, you can inch your way towards the Ironman. Outline the milestone and timelines that will help you work towards your ultimate goal.
If your biggest goal is also the first step, the game is over before you even got started.
How to stay motivated
Goals are one thing. Maintaining the motivation that comes with setting a new goal is a whole different beast. And an important thing to be aware of is the difference between internal and external motivators.
If you find yourself constantly setting goals but struggling to make them stick, you probably require more internal motivators. Internally motivated people should hold their cards close to their chest, and avoid telling anybody what they are.
At first glance, we’d think that telling others about goals would keep us accountable. But if you tell somebody that you joined a new gym, they’ll likely tell you “great job!” or even “why? You look fine!”, right? The problem with that is you’re getting praise and a kick of endorphins before you’ve actually made a move. When you’ve already gotten the positive feedback, it’s harder to actually follow through on the most difficult part of reaching a goal — the work itself.
Sound familiar? Here’s what you should do: set your goals, and keep your mouth shut. You don’t need other people to know about what you want to accomplish, and telling them about your goals can be detrimental to your progress. You need techniques to motivate yourself, whether that’s setting daily reminders on your phone or keeping post-its on your mirror, you’ll increase the odds of success.
While plenty of studies suggest it’s best to keep your goals to yourself, some of us thrive from external motivators.
Externally-motivated people get a feeling of accountability from telling others about their goals. They need to keep your word and follow through to avoid letting them down, so sharing their goals with those around them helps to keep them driven. These people thrive on publicly announcing progress, and getting consistent positive encouragement from friends and family. By telling your friends about your dreams and goals, you’re also opening up the possibility for them to help you get there.
If that helps you, great! But whichever side you relate more to, here are a few ways to make your goals stick.
3 techniques to help you achieve your goals
- Accountability clubs: a good friend of mine told me about how she and her sisters created a list of different goals they wanted to work towards, whether they’re short-term, like joining a new club; medium-term, like booking a trip to their dream destination that year; or long-term, like buying a home or having a kid. Then, they have monthly Skype calls or meet up to discuss their progress, define what they’ll work on before the next call, and set a date for the next call. Find somebody who you can have regular chats with, to keep each other accountable.
- Let tech help: use a Chrome extension like Focus or Todoist to list your goals so you get regular reminders of what you want to work on. Every time you open a new browser window, your goals are staring right back at you, letting you know what you should be working on — instead of going to Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit.
- Shout it out: write your goals down on Medium for the world can see. Writing down your goals has been found to make you 40% more likely to achieve them, and this works whether you’re internally or externally motivated. You can put your goal in writing, making it permanent, without the boost from your loved ones praising your plans rather than your actual progress, or publish your thoughts on Facebook, Linkedin, or Medium and let the world know what you’re working towards.
Ultimately, reaching your goals is up to one person: you. So don’t do it for anybody other than yourself. If your self-improvement benefits others, that’s a great bonus, but don’t set life-changing goals if you aren’t excited about the change.
And if you slip up along the way, don’t beat yourself up over it. Failing doesn’t make you a failure. It teaches you what doesn’t work. Personally, if I take a week off running or working out, it’ll take me 3 weeks to get back into it, so I know I can’t take a week off. If I go on holiday, I need to make a deliberate effort to be active while I’m away, otherwise, it’s that much harder to come home and get back into my routine. Self-awareness is critical.
Now, enough talk.
It’s time to get to work.