Happy New Year! Today is still New Year’s Eve, but I’m not going to be writing tomorrow.
This article will cover 13 points on New Year’s resolutions. It is a tradition in the US, and maybe elsewhere as well, to attempt to break old negative habits and start new positive habits at the beginning of the year. The 13 points include 7 tips, 1 practical example to illustrate some of those tips, and 5 recommended resolutions.
Based on this article, which is in turn based on numerous academic studies, here are 8 tips for making and breaking habits:
- It is neurologically easier for you to develop an alternative habit than to simply drop a current habit.
- Empirical data suggests that 21 to 30 days of routine activity, or lack thereof, will usually significantly ingrain, or de-ingrain, a habit, although this usual pattern may vary based on several factors.
- Clinical data (ie, better than empirical) shows that neurological pathways are major determinants of habits and while cessation of a habit may significantly weaken a pathway, once the pathway exists it will almost never again be fully eliminated and can often be easily reactivated.
- Practical example of points 2 and 3: If you are trying to quit smoking or drinking and you make it for one month without smoking or drinking it will probably become much easier not to smoke or drink each day, BUT if you smoke or drink on even one day it may substantially or completely return the urge to smoke and drink back to the way it was before you quit. This can be thought of as a “momentum effect.” A car in neutral is difficult to push down a flat road, but once it starts moving it gets easier. However if you take a brake and let the car slow down or stop it becomes really hard again.
- To make that starting point of getting the car moving easier, start with small goals and add on as you go later. Starting with “I am going to go to the gym once a week” and building up to “I am going to the gym four times a week” is easier than trying to just go several times a week from the start.
- Try to make or break as few habits at the same time as possible. Focus on them one at a time. Habit forming is mental and it causes mental exhaustion. Saying “I am going to stop smoking” and later taking on increased exercise is easier than doing both at the same time.
- Write down a specific goal, not a general goal, and put it together with a specific plan on how to get there. Instead of “I want to get a 6-pack,” write down a plan similar to this, and put it somewhere you will frequently see it, “I am going to go to the gym once per week for three weeks, then twice per week for the next three weeks, then three times and four times in the same pattern, then continue at four times per week for a total of 5 months of going to the gym. While at the gym, I am going to start by doing 3 sets of 10 sit-ups, then two weeks later 3 sets of 15 sit ups, then two weeks later 3 sets of 20 sit ups…” At the end of 5 months, or as you go along, you can adjust this plan toward your overall goal, but make the resolution a goal and a plan you are constantly reminded of, not just a goal.
- Repeat the behavior as often as you can. Doing something weekly may be great, but can you do it daily? Can you do this thing multiple times per day? This also works on removing habits. If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day you can start by smoking one less cigarette each day, but if you are able to be consistent why not drop two each day?
Now that we’ve gotten the tips out of the way, my top 5 recommendations are as follows:
- Replace listening to the radio with listening to an mp3 player full of music which emphasizes moral lyrical content.
- Replace watching TV with watching YouTube where you select videos with important and actionable information, maybe with a bit of comedy or entertainment mixed in, as opposed to pure entertainment content.
- Make time to go to the gym 3-4 times per week for about an hour each time.
- Read some of the Bible. Maybe you could even read the whole thing this year!
- Become a producer of some kind, even besides working at a day job. Things you could do include volunteering at a church or nonprofit, writing articles for a blog, making YouTube videos, making music, making art, contributing to an open source technology project or many others. Perhaps you can eventually turn this hobby into a revenue stream or career path!