Leaving Old Habits Behind GraphicThe new year is here already, and with it often comes the encouragement to make positive changes in your life. If you're like many people, however, you set lofty intentions that fade within the first few months. Here are some tips for building a new habit that sticks.

Set a Reasonable Timeline

One of the possible reasons that new resolutions are hard to keep is not that you're setting unreasonable goals but that you are not giving yourself the proper time it takes to build them. For example, if you want to make running in the morning a daily habit, you have to start by working it into your routine. There are several behaviors that make it easier to introduce a new activity into an established schedule:

  • Set an alarm. Your body and brain are used to doing things a certain way, and the jolt of an alarm helps interrupt the regular schedule with reminders.
  • Enlist a friend. Whether you are trying to work out more often or volunteering in your community, knowing that someone else is depending on you to show up may be the extra push you need to get going.
  • Don't give up.  You may successfully incorporate the new behavior into your routine until something happens to throw you off, such as vacation or sickness. Instead of writing it off as a lost cause, pick the task back up and start again.

Identify Potential Obstacles

Often it's not discouragement that keeps people from reaching their goals but the dozens of distractions that pull their focus away. That's why an integral part of any successful habit formation is identifying obstacles that may occur and making a plan to overcome them. If you want to read more books next year, you already know you need to set aside more time to do so. Make a list of distractions or difficulties that may arise during the time you block off to read.

Once you have these obstacles in mind, create a planned response for when they arise. For example, you may start to dread your nightly reading time if the book you have started is not interesting to you. It would be easy to make excuses and find any reason not to work toward your goal, but it would be more effective to give yourself permission ahead of time to stop reading a book that doesn't hold your attention in favor of a new one that does. Knowing how you will address the problem before it occurs can help you stay on track.

Track Your Progress

The easiest way to see the progress you're making is to write it down. When you choose a goal, create a chart or a spreadsheet on which you can mark every time you engage in it. As the habit becomes a more stable part of your routine, you may even start to note not only the frequency with which you do it but also the changes in the time you spend on it or improvements you have made.

Tracking helps you create a habit by showing you if what you're doing is working. You may have great intentions of getting up earlier to add exercise to the schedule, but your chart may show that you're still trying to overcome the snooze button. Instead, try temptation bundling. That is, add something fun that you already do to the process, such as only watching the next episode of the show you like while you're on the treadmill. This practice can help link your enthusiasm for your hobby with the new habit you want to form.

Building a new habit may seem easy on the surface, but it rarely goes that smoothly in real life. By following these tips, you are more likely to meet your goals.

Category: Health and Wellness

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