It’s the beginning of the year – and it’s no surprise that you might be thinking of improving yourself, trying out new things, wanting to change your routine, etcetera. This is to be expected. In fact, you might be someone who does this every year; every new year is an opportunity to grow in one way or another.
As the days pass from Christmas to New Year’s, millions of us sit down and think about what they want to accomplish over the coming months. We dream and plan about improving various aspects of our lives and ourselves as we pen down one hypothetical accomplishment after another. We do this – will ourselves to get better – in many ways: setting goals, asking people around us to hold us accountable, journal, reflect.
However, many of us glance over what’s the most important in accomplishing our goals: it’s forming habits. Unless your journey to your goal becomes a habit, there are too many variables for you to fall short or lag behind in achieving your goal. Of course, people change and goals change – if a goal no longer serves your purpose, then there is no point in working towards it. However, for the ones that are determined to reach a goal, not fulfilling it can affect their self-esteem, their trust in themselves, and what they believe they are capable of.
Often times, failing to reach a goal is not a matter of your capabilities (we are all much, much, more capable than we realise) but rather not knowing the right way to go about it. It’s alright – good, even – to have lofty and grand goals. But what we leave unsaid is that you have to form a habit of trying to accomplish that goal before you’ll be able to do it.
Break down your goals into daily or regular targets that you can achieve. If you consistently accomplish small goals, not only does it drive you closer to your much larger goal, but it also reinforces the trust you have within yourself. It tells the part of you that doubts yourself that you can, in fact, achieve whatever you put your mind to.
Start by asking yourself: what are some small targets you can set up to fulfill on a regular basis? What are things you can do that reinforce the behaviour that you want to see in yourself? Think about the process, routine and environment that you need to develop; don’t jump into tackling a big goal every other day. Break down your progress into smaller habits that call for less effort and mental strain. When these smaller habits become an easy kick, that’s when you can take a step further and push yourself to challenge a bigger habit.
Here are some ways you can form habits:
1. Make Habits Easy
One of the most effective ways to form habits is to remove the inertia that one may have when starting something new. Remove the obstacles that may discourage you or enable you in procrastinating. If you’re planning to join a gym, then back your bag the day before and have it ready near the door for the next day. If you want to practice introspection and reflection more, then having an aesthetic journal and your favourite pen accessible and in your sight would help.
2. Reward Yourself
Acknowledging your success is important in habit formation. Rewards create positive reinforcement, and subconsciously tell your sense of self that what you’re doing is worth it. Some rewards are immediate; washing your dishes right after you eat rewards you immediately with the knowledge that you have one less chore for later. Career or self-growth goals, on the other hand, may take longer to see. This can result in demoralisation and/or wanting to give up. In such cases, reward yourself with your favourite hobbies or items after getting into a habit successfully.
3. Do It Regularly
The average time it takes to form a habit is 2 months. This might sound like a lot, but imagine if your action only takes 5 minutes a day. Across 60 days, that would translate to 5 hours – the duration just slightly over two movies.
Habits may take a long time to form. But they form a lot faster when we do them regulary, and when we try our best to remove all possible obstacles to provide a friction-less experience. So start with something that’s easy to do every day. Once this becomes a part of your routine, then you can push yourself further.
4. Stack Your Habits
One smart way to form a new habit is to attach to a pre-existing habit. Have you decided to raise a few plants under your roof this year? It might be a good idea to attach their watering scheduling to your morning routine of making your coffee or breakfast. Look for avenues in your day to see how you can add new habits to your pre-existing ones.
Morning and night routines are usually the strongest routines, so they’re a great place to start. The time it takes for your coffee to brew might be a good time to slot in a one-to-two minute meditation practice. Your night-time skincare routine might be a good spot to slot in the regular journalling you’ve always been wanting to do.
5. Break The Unwanted Habits
There are only so many hours in a day, and there are only so many things you can do in a day. It’s good to know that you have boundaries and limits. Sometimes, making space for new habits requires us to let go of older ones – some that may no longer be good for us or ones that may no longer be serving their purpose. Often times, it’s letting go of some things that is much more difficult than forming new habits and routines.
How do you break habits? Well, you do the exact opposite of how you form one. Make them unsatisfying. Add obstacles. Remove the cues that make you want to engage with them. These are not the difficult aspects though. The tough part is recognising that growing requires you to let go of parts of yourself that you’re incredibly comfortable with. However, thinking of new habits, and of what you’ll gain, might provide you with comfort and motivation to do so.
Perhaps the greatest habit we have to form is “willpower”, the bridge between your intentions and your actions and with enough usage, it acts like a muscle; by which, it can get tired via exertion, but training can improve it. Exerting willpower can cause physical changes in the structure of your brain, which makes it easier to form and stick to new routines. And when it comes down to it, self-control is much easier to practice too. With enough practice in willpower, it would be much easier for you to say no to things that you may want to do, but may not necessarily be good for you.
There are various ways to do this. Start small. Perhaps limit yourself to the number of chips you aim to consume. Or exit the screen before Netflix autoplays the next episode. Replace your “I should” wording with “I can and will”; shifting thought patterns can result in bigger changes than you would expect. Believe in yourself and your ability to listen to yourself.
It’s also beneficial to be easy on yourself – life happens. Things get in the way. Crises, setbacks, and Plan Bs are bound to be apart of our lives. One way to work around this is to realise that setbacks are the rule, not the exception. It’s good to plan to work around them and realise our recovery efforts. It’s also not a shame to readjust our goals to fit our lives. Goals, contrary to popular belief, are not set in stone, and they can and should be adjusted to fit you and your needs.