making the habit

According to researchers, it takes 66 days to form a new habit, so if you’re looking to ace your 2014 New Year’s resolution you needed to start, uh, yesterday.

But don’t worry if you’re not quite there yet. I’m not, either. My head’s chock full of all the things I still want to do with 2013. Like finish my summer novel, quit sugar for goodbecome a proper minimalist, and um, blog daily. With only 65 days to go I’m realizing a few early resolutions might not hurt.

John Dryden on Habits

A lot of people I know have simply resolved not to make resolutions. They’re just a set-up for failure, right? That doesn’t keep these people from wanting change in their own lives, of course, but it often keep them from seeing it. So whether you do it after Christmas or right now, the best way to change is to decide to. Here are a few tips on where to go from there:

  1. Be specific: “Eat healthy” is vague and can easily be manipulated to fit the whim of the moment. “No more cereal for breakfast” is quantifiable and hard to fudge.
  2. Make habits, not goals: “Eat an apple and yogurt for breakfast” is easy to do, and once you’ve done it again and again and again, you won’t even have think about it as you put your other goals habits in place for better living.
  3. Set up cues and responses: Bad habits are retained by mental cues that tell us to behave a certain way, e.g. “When I finish supper, turn on the television” or “If there’s chocolate, eat it.” Luckily, we can use cues to form good habits as well. In this case it’s “If it’s breakfast, eat an apple and yogurt” but it could easily be, “When I finish supper, go for an evening walk.”
  4. Make the habit of making habits: Eating something different for breakfast doesn’t sound like a very worthy resolution for the start of a new year, but as you begin to see change as a process, you can implement new habits progressively to achieve your goal. In February you can begin your evening walks, and in March, “If there’s chocolate, drink a glass of water.”
  5. Believe it will get easier: Willpower begets willpower. 12 months later, when you’re running 20 minutes every morning before your first coffee, you won’t believe how hard it was to go that first week without Frosted Flakes.Gretchen Rubin on Habits

At the end of 2011, I wrote a list of 6 areas of my life I wanted to grow in. Three were external, and 3 internal. For each of these I decided on monthly, weekly, and daily habits to acquire. In the second week of 2012, I moved house and lost the notebook where I had written all this down. What I remembered was the habits I had already begun, and I continued to build on them. When I found the notebook again in October, I’d already overshot almost all of my goals for the year.

The power of habit.

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