By Whitney Blakeslee
Whether you are part of the New Year’s resolution crew, the “I’ll start on Monday” crowd, or even if you hate making goals altogether, there is a better way to approach this. Most people talk about goals, but I want to push you to think about habits. Goals alone won’t deliver results, but a shift in your lifestyle just may! If you’ve been there/done that with New Year’s resolutions (along with 80% of people who don’t stick to them), keep reading for a fresh perspective.
- What’s your why? This is the big one when it comes to setting a New Year’s resolution. You cannot rush this step because success hinges upon it. First, when you approach goal-setting, you need to determine what you want (what you really, really, want). I work as a personal trainer, and about 9 out of 10 women come to me with a goal of losing weight. We need to dig deeper though. WHY do you want to lose weight? What are you looking for? Acceptance, confidence, a capable body, or more stamina to keep up with your little ones? Knowing your real “why” plots the course and keeps you going once pure motivation has faded.
- Determine the steps and pick ONE. If you decided that your real goal is to build a capable body — how do you get there? Most people’s gut reaction is to cut out sugar, eat five servings of vegetables, and work out for an hour each day. But guess what research shows? Focusing your energy on one single, manageable goal at a time greatly increases the likelihood of success for most people. I often coach my clients to pick the habit that they KNOW they can complete successfully. It’s important to get some early wins to keep momentum rolling. If your goal is to build a capable body, perhaps your first mini-goal would be to go on a 10-minute walk every day or lift weights for 10 minutes, three times a week. In addition to keeping it simple, phrase your habit as a positive. Rather than cutting out sugar, focus on crowding it out by eating 3 servings of vegetables every day. This quiets our rebellious side while reaching the same finish line.
- Find a trigger. Several studies on habit formation show that people were significantly more successful if their desired habit had a trigger. This simply means that you attach your new habit to an existing one. The walking example would become “I will take a walk after lunch,” rather than simply walking. Eating lunch every day is an established habit, so every time you eat lunch, you know that you will walk afterward. Other common triggers could be brushing your teeth, eating meals, waking up/going to bed, or commuting to work.
- Stick with it. Most of us have heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but the truth is, 21 days is an arbitrary average that was found in one study. There is actually a huge span, from 18 to 254 days, for a habit to become ritual. The average is 66 days. There are no quick fixes here, and it will likely take time — BUT once your new habit is a part of your routine, you won’t have to think about it anymore. Remember, the only way to get to your new lifestyle is to start with Day 1. So forget about the number and focus on doing the work.
What is your experience with setting goals? Where have you struggled and where have you seen success? What is the No. 1 habit that could change your life?
Whitney is a personal trainer and habits coach in Denver. She spends her days outside with her toddler playing in the dirt and watching too many episodes of The Office after bedtime.
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