It’s the end of the year again, which means that once again everybody is going to at least think about making some major life changes. Eat right, exercise, stop smoking, read more, finally buy that walrus you’ve been talking about getting for five years – I don’t know what your particular resolutions are going to be, but I hope that the walrus thing is among them.
Typically, the resolutions we make take us exactly nowhere, so much so that according to at least one article, 80% of us will quit trying to accomplish whatever we were trying to accomplish by the second week of February.
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of advice about how to make or break a habit. The standard one is that it takes 21 days to form a new habit (a conveniently round number weeks-wise that I’ve always been somewhat suspicious of), so all you need to do is stick with it for 3 weeks and you’ll be set. Except that for most of us, that isn’t anywhere near enough.
So if you are interested in making any changes of any kind to your life, your marriage, your job, your health, or your exotic animal collection, here are some things to keep in mind as you go about next year’s personal transformation.
Decide If You Actually Want The Thing You Say You Want?
This is probably the most important part of changing ourselves, and it’s the easiest one to ignore. You want to lose weight? Maybe. Or maybe you’re just saying that because you think you’re supposed to, or because your doctor or a family member said you should. But do you really care about it? I’d argue that the vast majority of the time we fail to make or break a new habit, it’s because we’ve subconsciously decided that the reward we’re seeking isn’t worth the headache of making an alteration to our current way of being. For example, I occasionally bite my nails. It’s a terrible habit, one I’ve had since I was 6 or 7, and every so often I vow to stop doing it. Sometimes I do, maybe even for months at a time. But eventually I slip back, and I’ve finally realized that it’s because I’ve decided there’s no real negative consequences for me. I’m not a hand model, nobody else seems to notice, and if they do they haven’t said anything, so I don’t feel any urgency to change my ways. (This, incidentally, is the reason that so many people decide to lose weight after they’ve been diagnosed with a medical issue or are no longer able to do things they enjoy doing, instead of getting ahead of the issue before it’s an actual issue.) Bottom line, if you don’t truly want the thing you’re striving for, then you are unlikely to get there. So if you’re picking goals for the new year, pick ones that actually matter to you.
Do You Know How To Do Whatever You’ve Set Out To Do?
“Get a better job” is a great goal, but it’s not going to take you very far if that’s the entirety of your plan. What kind of job do you want? What steps do you need to take to find one? Is your resume up-to-date? Do you need some additional education? Are you willing to move? There are a lot of factors that go into any significant life decision – quitting smoking might require you to change who you spend time with, for example, just like learning to play an instrument might require you to find a teacher who can work around your schedule. If you don’t know how to do what you want to do, you’re more likely to get stuck somewhere early in the process. And if you’re like 80% of us, then about the second week of February you’ll decide that the goal you set is too complicated to keep pursuing. So after you’ve decided you actually want the thing you’re going for, figure out how to get there.
Do You Have a Support Network?
Very few of us can do anything on our own; indeed, the myth of the “self-made” individual is one of the more destructive parts of the American ethos. This article, for example, would reach exactly zero people if my team wasn’t there to design and manage our marketing strategy, and my speaking career would be a shell of what it currently is without the woman who manages client relationships and contract negotiations. It’s not failure to need other people to help us move forward; it’s human. Is it possible to make great changes without outside support? Absolutely. But it’s a hell of a lot harder. (Side note – imagine how much more difficult some of the things in your life would be without a bunch of random strangers creating all those “How-To” videos on YouTube.) So find some friends, family, colleagues, and/or online connections to help cheer you on as you move toward your goal.
True desire, a decent plan, and a little support. That’s the real secret to making (or breaking) your habits. I hope you find this helpful, and I hope you have a wonderful 2020!