Ask Mr. Manners

Building better habits

by Brock Kannan

Now that the holidays have passed, it is time to begin thinking about 2020, the end of a decade.

In preparation for the new decade, I have been doing some research on New Year’s resolutions. Studies show that an estimated 45 percent of Americans make resolutions, and of that group who made a resolution, only about 10 percent keep the change for the entire year. I was not really surprised by the numbers, but it got me thinking. The key to New Year’s resolutions is not just making them, but keeping them. It’s much easier to keep resolutions when they are “habits” incorporated into your everyday life.

Social Psychologist have been doing extended research into how long it takes for an activity to truly become a habit. I am sure you have heard that it takes 21 days for a new habit to truly stick, but research shows the average time it takes to form a new habit is actually about 66 days. Don’t let that abandon any ideas you have for change — everyone is different! To help you with making those changes, I have a few tips from my own life to make those changes stick once and for all. 

Be specific. No matter what you’re trying to achieve — eating better, getting in shape, reducing stress — a specific plan is going to get you further than a vague one. Don’t just say you’re going to “start running.” Instead, pick a concrete time and day you plan to do so, such as “I’m going to go running after work on Mondays.” What you want to do is form a new association with your habit and eventually, it will become automatic.

Be positive. Sometimes “good” habits are about breaking “bad” habits. It’s simply not possible to form a habit for not doing something. Ending a bad habit, like smoking or eating fried foods every day, will likely require a new behavior to compete with that existing bad behavior. The very nature of a habit is that once it’s locked in it’s difficult to shift because you are trying to battle against your own automatic processes. What you’re really doing is stopping yourself from responding to an impulse. Don’t simply say you’re going to give up or not do a certain activity. You need to make a plan for with what new activity you will replace the old habit.

Start simple. Ingraining new habits is hard work. And the more complex the habit, the longer it usually takes to settle in. For example, drinking an extra glass of water daily will probably be easier than finding 30 minutes every day for the gym. So get started by breaking those more complex goals into simpler, smaller goals. That might mean adding reminders to your calendar to go to the gym at set times for the first month. As long as you’re motivated over time your new habits will develop.

No matter what resolutions you decide to make, it all goes back to the habits you decide to focus on. Reinventing yourself takes time. Start by making minor changes and tackle the bigger picture one step at a time. Good Luck! Here we go with a new decade.

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