Thursday, December 26, 2013

One Step at a Time to Building Good Habits

With the beginning of a New Year approaching, many people may begin thinking about something that they would like to do for their New Year’s Resolutions. What are yours?

The usual ones include:
  1.  Losing weight/getting fit
  2.  Quitting smoking
  3.   Learning something new
  4.  Eating more healthy
  5.  Paying off debts and saving money
  6. Spending more time with family
  7.  Traveling more
  8. Being less stressed
  9.  Volunteering
  10. Drinking less
Of course, it’s quite obvious what usually happens to these New Year’s Resolutions after a few weeks.

This is what the attendance rate at any regular commercial gym looks like throughout the year:

Although slightly exaggerated, the general trend remains the same. Other New Year’s Resolutions seem to follow the same pattern of peaking at the beginning of the year, and then slowly decaying into a plateau. This cycle seems to repeat every year, indicating that people are having a hard time keeping these resolutions and turning them into habits. Often what happens is that people start off very strong, and then quickly burn out, quickly losing their motivation and will power to follow through with their resolutions.

A Different Kind of Resolution 
But what if instead of trying to make all of these drastic changes in their lives all at once (often trying to completely change a long established lifestyle), people started with smaller, more manageable changes that they were more likely to follow through with? What if, as these little changes became habits, people started adding more to these changes, until eventually, they were able to make drastic changes to their lives?

Rather than spending a lot of money and buying a gym membership that you might not even use in a few months, why not start off by making a small commitment, such as taking fifteen minutes out of your day to go on a walk. Once the habit of taking time out of your day to do a physical exercise has been established, start increasing the time and adding more demanding exercises. Soon, you’ll get to a point where it becomes a habit to spend a part of your day exercising.

Instead of treating a resolution as one big task, why not break down your resolution into tiny chunks that you can manage more easily? Trying to eat a salad every meal for the rest of the year probably won't last long. But what about removing just one unhealthy daily food item from your meals, such as that can of soda, and drinking more water instead? Soon, you won’t even miss your soda, and you could move on to eating just one healthy meal a day, building a healthy eating habit until you end up with huge dietary changes?

You could think of it as almost like the reverse of what usually happens when someone makes a New Year’s Resolution. Instead of starting off with a big change, you start off with a smaller one. Rather than slowly changing back to how you were before, you slowly change to where you want to be. You become accustomed to the new changes in your life as they become habits that will soon be just as hard to break as your old habits.

Here is what the curve should look like:

For this year’s resolution, rather than being ambitious and taking on too much at once with your resolution, start off small. You might see other people who start off strong making huge changes in their lives in the beginning, but before you know it, you’ll have passed them on your quest to making a positive change in your life.

Good luck for the New Year.


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