I’ve made many New Year’s Resolutions over the years: read more books, spend more time with God, lose weight, exercise more, the usual stuff. But a few years back I realized that very few actually lasted longer than say February. Most of the time, my New Year’s Resolutions only made me feel disappointed in myself because I couldn’t seem to make them work.
The reason? Discipline alone isn’t enough.
I’m a fairly disciplined person. I can motivate myself to do a lot of things I don’t particularly like, like ironing, doing admin, or doing the dishes. But when it comes to the bigger things in life, to actually changing my life, discipline alone isn’t enough.
You see, New Year’s Resolutions often look like this:
- Exercise three times a week for at least an hour
- Loose 20 pounds before the summer
- Have quiet time with God for at least 15 minutes every day
- Read at least 20 fiction and 25 non-fiction books this year
You may think these are good goals, because they are SMART: they’re specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related. And they are good goals, great goals even. But you won’t realize them with just discipline. You need to change your habits to realize them.
Habits run our life, or maybe I should say ‘we run our lives on habits’. A lot of what we do each day, each week, is governed by our habits. And these habits fuel some bad behavior, like always eating a snack when we watch the late night news, automatically turning on the TV when we get home instead of grabbing a book, or habitually getting up too late to make it to the gym before work.
If we were to take a long, hard look, we’d discover that a lot of our habits limit our productivity, keep us from realizing our goals and even our dreams and all in all just plain hurt us in the long run. As dr. Phil would say: How’s that working for you?
If you want to make your New Year’s Resolutions work, you will need more than discipline. You need to change the habits that induce the ‘bad behavior’ and develop new habits that support the ‘good behavior’. Here’s how:
1. Set SMART goals
You should still start by setting goals, preferably SMART ones so that you can actually evaluate how you’re doing on reaching them.
2. Identify bad habits
Spend some time on identifying habits you have that keep you from reaching your goals. For example: say your goal is to read 50 books this year. What has kept you from doing so in the past? The list of bad habits could look like this:
- Automatically turning on TV when you get home
- Spending too much time on social media
- Losing track of time when you start gaming
- Making reading a low priority, so you never actually get to it
These are the habits you need to change. For each of your identified bad habits, come up with a way to change it into a positive habit that will help you realize your goals.
3. Identify good habits
What other habits can you think of that would help you realize your goals? For your 50 book-reading challenge, here are some suggestions:
- Always carry a book with you so you can read whenever you have a few minutes (my personal tip: buy a Kindle! It’s lightweight and fits into any bag and you always carry dozens of books with you so you can read at any time)
- Read every spare minute. Instead of looking out the window or flipping through old magazines when you’re in a waiting room, read a book.
- Block two chunks of reading time each week, for instance two blocks of two hours. Make this time ‘sacred’ and don’t let anything interrupt it.
Come up with a list of good behaviors that will help you realize some real change in your life.
4. Change your habits one at a time
Habits are notoriously hard to break. Research suggests new habits may take up to 60 days to form and old habits take even longer to break. That’s even more so when these habits are addictive, like drinking, smoking or caffeine intake.
That means it’s unrealistic to try and change all your habits in January. You will fail miserably. Instead, pick one bad habit that will make a big change and work on breaking that one. At the same time, force yourself to adopt one new positive habit. Don’t tackle the next habit until you are sure you’ve changed the first one!
It may mean you won’t realize all your resolutions in the first half of the year, and some you may not even realize at all. But every bad habit you manage to break and every good habit you adopt is a real step towards lasting success in your life. And that takes time, no matter how much we’d like to lose those 20 pounds in two weeks. We could lose that weight purely on discipline, but they’d be back by June…unless we’d change your habits.
What habits do you have that keep you from realizing your goals and dreams?
[Photo Credit: Ivanclow on Flickr, Creative Commons]