Use Habits as your Little Helpers

I don’t take the first weeks of a new year too serious. I think mid-December until mid-January is a time for winding down, reflecting, spending time with family members and other loved ones, sleeping, eating, and mentally preparing for a new year to come. For me, the beauty of that time lies in the break of usual routine and indulgence in a way that just doesn’t happen over the rest of the year.

Now it’s February and we are all back to our usual routines which to me feels like the right time to really take action about all the changes we’ve been pondering about in the last few weeks.

First step is of course finding out what the goal is. Some people believe in the power of SMART goals, but some don’t. I think it depends a lot on somebody’s personality and also on the topic at hand whether such a technique helps you or not. If anything, thinking about goals more in terms of ’sustainable life adjustments‘ (go running twice a week for 20 minutes) rather that something fixed (lose 5kg) can also decrease the fear of failure right in the beginning.

Second, and this is where the fun begins: Identify HABITS  to help you reach your goal. There is a lot of research going into this subject and I am a strong believer in the power of habits. Simply put, habits are „the things we do more often than others“ – and it’s actually a lot of fun looking at your weekly schedule in that way to understand yourself better. You might not understand why you are not sleeping well. Looking at your daily bedtime routine might really give you some clues.

The right habits make achieving a goal not only more realistic but also easier, because:

„Habits take away the hassle of decision making.“

For example: if you make Mondays and Wednesday your days for exercising after work, that’s all you need to know. These are the days you will pack your bag in the morning (or the evening before), you take that bag to work and off you go! No more thinking about „when will I go to the gym“ – having made that decision really frees you up to think about other things. It’s very resourceful in that sense.

As soon as you have made that decision, your brain can also rehearse. While packing your bag, you can already imagine how you will drive over to the gym instead of home and once you’ve „seen“ this once, it becomes like a natural thing when you then do it in real life.

Habits can also help you find any accountability support you might need. Some people are excellent at sticking to their own plans, and others need a little outside help. If you want to spend each day from 7am-8am writing your novel, you can set your alarm or ask your early riser friend to call you at 6.55 to remind you.

Habits can also help you when you have an unsteady life, for example if you travel a lot. If you have an exercise routine that you know you can easily do, even in a small hotel room, you have a wonderful resource to keep you maintain your exercise levels at least to some extend. The habit of „always choosing the healthiest lunch option that’s in front of me“ can also be a great guide wherever you are. And if the healthiest option one day is a burger, so be it.

Habits can also help you with self-control, especially when you are trying to cut something down or out. If you have a hard time cutting down on afternoon snacks but you know that a cup of green tea usually eliminates your cravings, make it a habit to have a cup every day at 3pm.

You can go even further with this. For example: In 2015 I made the decision to never buy a book on Amazon again but instead support my local independent book stores. As a „punishment“ I decided that if I slip, I will make it a habit to then buy 2 extra books in one of those stores. And this has only happened once. The second I got the confirmation email from Amazon, I rolled my eyes and off I went to the book store. It really helped me stick to my rules and to never make that mistake again!

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