We are creatures of habit, as we have often heard, and breaking bad habits can be tough.
The good news is you can save the resolutions for New Year’s. They were the same as last year, right? You get another shot at giving something up for Lent every year, too.
But wouldn’t it be nice to make some of these changes on our own, instead of failing miserably every time we try to participate in a yearly resolution or prescribed period of atonement? Here are a few ideas that can help you build good habits and make positive changes in your life.
Start With Small Goals
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We’ve all heard that joke before, but there is a real message in it. Breaking monumental tasks into small, attainable goals is the best way to achieve success. Start off small and create goals that are easy to achieve, even if they might seem silly. The goal is to succeed and then build upon your success. Here are a few examples of things you can commit to accomplishing:
- Walk two blocks in the morning before breakfast
- Do 5 pushups before you go to bed
- Wipe down the counter or table after dinner
- Eat one carrot per day
- Limit yourself to one sugary drink per day
Identify Your Obstacles
Why don’t you go to the gym? Are you citing “writer’s block” as an excuse for your lack of effort on writing your novel? Did you buy expensive running shoes that are still unworn in the closet? Did you think they would run for you? Figure out what it is that is keeping you from trying. It may just be fear of pain or failure.
Some people like to exercise, but they don’t like doing so in the company of others. Maybe the sight of your messy office is keeping you away from your work. Are you afraid to run alone? Ask a friend to join you. Whatever the obstacle is, you need to identify and address it in order to build good habits.
Break Bad Habits
Do you come home from work or errands and throw your coat on a chair? That’s an easy habit to break. Be conscious of this behavior and commit to changing it. You probably just don’t think about it, but now you must. Make it fun. Buy a special hanger for your coat or install a pretty hook for it. Your jacket staying off the floor is one step in the right direction.
Waking up to a sink full of dirty dishes can make for an awful start to your day. Seeing that as you try to make your coffee can make you feel ashamed, lazy and negative overall. Why do you do that? Nobody likes doing dishes, but we all value a clean and sanitary kitchen.
Instead of beating yourself up about the dirty dishes every day, find a way to make a clean kitchen rewarding. After dinner make sure all dishes are washed or in the dishwasher. An empty sink means watching a fun, half-hour TV show for you or the whole family. You will look forward to your newfound cleanliness.
There are varying opinions on how long it takes to form new habits. Some say day 21 days, others say upwards of 60 days. It really doesn’t matter what others think, because it will vary depending on the person. Plus, you don’t want to commit to hanging up your coat for just a few weeks. This needs to be a lifelong change. Even something so minor as this will help strengthen your resolve to build good habits or break bad ones.
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Anchor One Task to Another
Do you own a vacuum cleaner but never use it? Maybe you hate vacuuming, or maybe you never notice the need to vacuum unless you have guests. Instead of vacuuming only when you become overrun with cobwebs and debris from outside, find a routine that you can attach to the chore of vacuuming.
Perhaps you can vacuum every Monday, or attach vacuuming to your trash pickup day. If one day per week is too much for you, choose a different timeline. Perhaps your recycling pickup day is every other week. That’s your new vacuuming day.
One chore can spur you to tackle another. Think about which chores link best. Perhaps you like to dust your furniture on days you vacuum, sweep or mop your floors. On days you shop, always stop and fill up your gas tank along your route. On days you run the dishwasher, you water your plants.
Attaching one activity to another can help you build good habits without having to think too much about it. Force yourself to pick and link a few, and in time it will be second nature.
Never plan for failure, but plan how to recover when you do fail. And don’t beat yourself up over it. This is normal. Everyone falls short of their goals from time to time. You will have those days when something unexpected happens and you are unable to meet your daily goal.
A sick child can throw off your day. The weather can make your walk or run unreasonable. Maybe your gym is closed due to a power outage. Proactively create a back-up plan to address any of these issues or accept that on that particular day, you simply cannot accomplish your task. Tomorrow you get another chance.
Celebrate Your Success
Share your goals with others. Maybe you don’t want to brag about hanging up your coat every day. But if you have joined a gym or started jogging and have had some success sticking with it, maybe it is time to let people know about it. This will give you encouragement from others to stick to your goals and also make you more accountable to them.
Have you given up drinking sugary sodas or alcohol? Don’t thwart your success by rewarding yourself with the thing you tried to give up, but find something positive to reinforce your success. Buy a new, fancy mug for your unsweetened iced tea.
See, it’s not that hard to build good habits. The key is to address your issues, make easily attainable goals, and increase those goals until you have accomplished everything you wanted. This may get addictive. You will be in charge of your life, and you will enjoy the fruits of your efforts.
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