The New Year’s resolution crowd is going to be out in full force in the upcoming weeks donning new outfits from Christmas time. There will be a slew of people clogging up the cardio arena to work off the holiday cookies and start a new healthy habit in the New Year. Blog posts and articles about sticking to your typical fitness resolutions are all too common around the 1st.
This is not one of those posts. In fact, I won’t mention the word “fitness” after this sentence. If you want more help regarding your commitment to the “F” word, here’s a good one:
Forming Habits, How I Do It, and Why I Hate New Year’s Resolutions by JC Deen
What I would rather talk about is the other 99% of your life that doesn’t reside in the gym – the actual part to make you a better human being. Much of our focus in the New Year is either losing weight, gaining muscle, or otherwise transforming our appearance in some manner. Why? Because those are changes you can actually see and judge.
But, there are a ton of other attributes that can directly influence your health and happiness other than the weight on the scale. In fact, I’d argue that these attributes are more important than putting in your time on the rat wheel. Don’t get me wrong, a couple of gym trips a week is key to living awesome, but even I will admit it can’t work miracles.
Take for example the typical American:
- Lives in some kind of debt either credit or loan related
- Doesn’t enjoy their job and goes every weekday begrudgingly to get a paycheck
- Doesn’t sleep enough and spends the majority of their day rushing around
- Spends free time staring at the TV as a mindless drone to avoid thinking
A trip to the gym can’t fix all of those problems. Trust me.
Forming the Habit of Being Awesome in the New Year
Rather than getting into better shape during the new year, I’d rather focus on something that is all-encompassing – the state of being awesome or increasing your awesomeness factor.
To become more awesome during the next year, we’re going to focus on creating powerful habits that lead to making you a better person. In order to create those habits, we need to take a more detailed look at the art of habits, how they are formed, and why some people smoke even though they know it will likely kill them or why you back into a relatives car in your driveway on your way to work that’s in plain site (because you neglected to check in your rearview mirror since the driveway is typically clear).
(Many of these ideas are taken from The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Great book, recommended read.)
Habits are extremely powerful. You have them in place throughout your life whether you want to or not. It cuts down on how often thinking needs to take place and greatly enhances our mental economy. You can do more while thinking less – seems like a win-win. Think about the last time you tied your shoes or made coffee. When you first did either of these tasks, you had to itemize them down into complex tasks that involved step-by-step thinking no matter if you learned the loop-swoop-pull method or the bunny ears. You had to taste your coffee several times to wonder if you had enough cream and sugar. Now, you don’t think twice about tying your shoes and you know that two dollops of cream in your coffee is the perfect amount.
Since you do them everyday, they became automated much like checking Facebook when you log on to your computer or locking the door when you leave the house. It happens automatically. You’ve effectively formed a habit from tons of repetition.
So, let’s look at the breakdown of two simple habits (tying your shoes and smoking). In each, you’ll find a similar path from start to finish.
Cue —–> Routine —–> Reward
Let’s take smoking for an example. The first time anyone picks up a cigarette, chances are, they don’t like the taste or the general notion of smoking. Immediately upon lighting the death stick, they take an inhale that burns their lungs and causes them to hack like crazy before foolishly continuing on with the inhale-hack-nearly throw-up trend. At this point, all signs point to smoking being a nasty little devil that should be stopped immediately.
Yet, people continue to smoke packs on end each day. What happens?
They start to experience the effect that nicotine has on the body (apparently an invigorating feeling that’s associated with increased adrenaline release). As a result, they feel like they are on cloud nine. As a result, smoking “feels” good despite causes the smoker to literally and figuratively cough up a lung.
Now, transition this to their every day life. Whether they smoke while drinking, on smoke breaks, or upon exiting a store, they generally pick one specific time to smoke or it may be a combination of all three. Chances are you know someone that “only smokes when they drink” or they grab a cigarette immediately after exiting a store into the open environment or after dinner. They have created a “cue” (alcohol, food, stress) that leads to smoking a cigarette (routine) and feeling the adrenaline release (reward). Thus, a habit is formed.
The same method can be applied to a simple task like tying your shoes. What starts as a very detailed task that seems almost impossible to a two-year old turns into something that we never think of any more. You form a cue (putting on your shoes), tie it to a routine (pun intended), and you reap the rewards (not falling on your face).
So, how do we apply the art of forming habits to things that are going to make you more awesome during the next year?
Forming Your Own Loop
Any action or task can be turned into a habit using the same formula as tying your shoes or smoking a cigarette. Those three actionable steps (cue-routine-reward) can be used to make almost anything seem completely natural.
Take, for instance, the habit of drinking more water. Establish a cue (perhaps every time you walk by a water fountain or even every time you send an e-mail) and relate it to the habit of drinking water (one sip, a gulp, a few glugs – however much you want). The reward can be anything from feeling better to putting a dollar in a jar every day you drink 10 glasses of water (that jar can be spent on anything). This really depends on whether you are intrinscally or extrinsically motivated.
Here are the rules to forming your own habit loop:
- Focus on one thing at a time. Any more and the habits won’t stick nearly as well.
- Pick anything you want but make sure it will improve you in the long run.
- Set aside time. It may require more investment in the beginning (just like tying your shoes), but it will become automated later on.
So, on to picking your habit to focus on. This is completely dependent on what is important to you, but here are some examples:
- Reading every day (or finishing a book a month)
- Drinking 10 glasses of water
- Taking a multi-vitamin and fish oil
- Saving money
- Feeding your dog
The key is to pick something that is quick and easy. Don’t try to go with a task that is incredibly complex because it takes longer to form a habit out of very complex things. Meditating for 5 minutes a day is easy and can make a huge difference. The problem is that most people leave it off until the end of the day and end up not having time.
So, select your target, and then use the following steps:
- Figure out your reward. Is it going to be a cash incentive or will you just feel better overall? Make sure it’s something that will be motivating to you. If your goal is to read every day, be sure that after you finish a book a month, you buy yourself something you want or have an epic, fantastic cheat meal of ice cream and bacon.
- Set up a cue so you can do the targeted habit at the same moment each day. For reading, it might be right before you go to bed. For exercising more, it might be something as simple as doing 20 push-ups before every meal.
- Establish an action. This is literally performing the habit each time the cue takes place.
- Enjoy your reward. Make sure this is something that you really want.
This same method can be used to start any new habit or break an old one. The key is following the right steps.
What habits are you starting in the New Year?