January is clearly a tough month for most people to negotiate. They waited all of the previous year for a great moment in the new year, for their resolution. Markets are built around it. The catch phrase “new year resolution” is on everybody’s lips like a beloved song.
But we old-timers, we know a thing or two about these new year resolutions. It is a silly whim. There is nothing specifically grander in the new year that will kick your butt, or sublimate you, to the point where you catapult all hurdles that have till now prevented you from your resolution: get up early, sleep early, eat healthy, cook your own food, party less, party more, enjoy your life, work harder, not procrastinate, be more organised, de-clutter.
The list is long, I am reading several books on habit forming, to decode why we fail. It is because people place a lot of weightage on motivation, as if it is some great feeling that will kick their butt.
How does motivation even feel? If we paid less attention to an external spurt and merely see the habit cultivation as a process, a journey, we will be less disappointed and more organised.
Also, why do we make these resolutions – to make or break a habit? If this is what the general public feels, and you are drawn by external sources of “inspiration” perhaps you are not personally convinced. Unless you stack up your new habit over an existing belief system, you may often founder and fail at establishing a habit.
The other thing is that people expect a new habit to magically transform their other bad habits. It often does. But it’s a difficult thing to expect of it, if you are battling this space – of habit-formation – on your own. Ideally, you need to stack your new habit on top of an existing one.
And see what it is that the old habit – which you are trying to do – is offering you emotionally. The replacement must offer the same benefits. For instance, if smoking is a coping mechanism and gives you me-time in a churning world, you need to replace it with a habit (going for a walk, sitting with a cup of beverage for example) that gives you a similar me-time.
A new habit, according to researchers, may take anywhere between 18 days to 285 days. So the whole process of habit is not a one-day or a one-month deal, which acts like a magic wand. It is a journey, sometimes a lengthy one, with several milestones, of faltering, and then, recovering ground that you may have lost. The main thing to realise is this: it is not easy, it is a journey and you are allowed to falter. This real assessment of establishing a habit will be more useful than unreal expectations that makes you feel like a failure.
Certain “self-help” gurus apparently created a myth out of an actual research by plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz. He found that most people who underwent plastic surgery took 21 days to get used to their new faces. This unfortunately created a myth of 21-day for a habit to form.
Subsequent researches by University College London proved that it can take anywhere between 18 to 285 days. This means we can take our time. We only need to hang on!
So given this, how do we ensure we stick to our resolutions?
Keep a journal.
Allow yourself cheat days, so you are prepared for that moment when you falter.
Surroundings really matter. If you are surrounded by people who don’t care what they eat, you simply will not be able to stick to your diet.
Cues are important. If you stack your fridge with all sorts of fatty and greasy meals, you have already decided not to listen to your better self! Stock your fridge with fresh salads if that is your resolve.
Start small. For instance, if you wish to work out, don’t be a weekend warrior. Instead plan a practice two-minute or five-minute ritual of exercise rather than an impractical two-hour workout for three times a week.
Stack your new habit over an old one. This is guaranteed for success.
Create a group of people who have similar aspirations. Be in touch with them. This can be really helpful for those with serious addictive behaviours.