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Mind Matters: New year, new habits

Mind Matters: New year, new habits

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Did you know that most New Year’s resolutions fail? It’s not because people are lazy, unmotivated or incapable of change. It may not even be that goals were set too high. Many people struggle to make even simple, modest life changes.

A major reason for such failure is limited understanding about how habits work. The simplest and most sustainable way to make positive life changes is to develop habits that support those changes. By understanding how habits form and get broken, you can harness the power of habit to help you make lasting changes.

What are habits? Habit are automatic behaviors that we don’t have to think about doing or use willpower to push ourselves to do. Habits are important because we only have a limited supply of mental energy, and there are so many small decisions that must be made each day.

Think about how many decisions you make during the day; what time to get up, what to eat for breakfast, whether to take the stairs or elevator, bring your lunch or buy it, surf the web or get ahead on work.

These decisions are usually not given much thought. They are simply acted upon because they have been practiced and made part of your daily routine. These are your habits.

Some people have mastered the art of habit. They get up when their alarm goes off, leave the house on time, eat healthy pre-made meals, exercise regularly, and finish work assignments early. All these behaviors involve some degree of discipline, but they are driven by habit.

The great news is that anyone can learn to create new habits. Creating good habits will allow you to release the stress that comes from knowing you “should” do something while wondering how you’re going to fit that in.

To determine habit changes you would like to make, first conduct an audit of your daily habits. Notice where your time, energy and attention are going throughout the day. Did you decide to cultivate these habits, or did they just happen?

Think about what changes you would like to make to your habits. Would you like to add a new habit, modify an existing habit, or get rid of a habit?

Start Small

Research shows that the habit of a habit is just as important as the habit itself. For example, suppose I want to get into the habit of walking a mile each morning. I first need to set a time, create space in my schedule, make sure I have the right equipment, and decide where to walk.

The habit of the habit involves getting up at the designated time, getting dressed for walking, driving to the walking location, etc. Whether I walk for an hour or for five minutes, I am practicing the habit of the habit.

This practice helps solidify the habit of walking, and this habit can be built upon later.

Start Immediately

After you decide on a new habit, don’t waste time and energy considering the “best” time to start. The longer you wait, the more difficult it is to start.

The waiting period decreases motivation and makes the habit seem less enjoyable, less valuable and less achievable. If you wait for conditions to be just right, you will be waiting indefinitely.

Remember, you can start the habit of a habit at any time.

Be Accountable

People often talk about their “why” for working toward a goal. These driving forces may be family, personal beliefs or passions. Knowing your reason for developing a habit is important, but these broader principles don’t always help habits to stick.

Motivation to stick to daily habits comes from immediate consequences and feedback. Accountability is one of the best ways to keep a habit consistent. Accountability may involve checking in with a friend, reporting behavior into an online program, or taking notes on your behavior.

Consistent accountability helps you quickly assess progress in the moment and make swift course corrections to keep habits on track.

We are all creatures of habit, but we are not destined to repeat the same bad habits over and over. Bad habits are easy to develop, and good habits can be developed with a bit of strategy and support.

Consider habit change as a resolution for 2021. By investing some time and effort into habit change, you can allow your habits to work for you rather than against you. 

Dr. Julia Becker is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Waco. She provides counseling to adults and adolescents dealing with depression, anxiety, relationship concerns and life stress. She believes counseling is beneficial for anyone who desires to have a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.

Email her at dr_becker@psybecker.com or go online at www.psybecker.com.

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