The following blog post was written by Simple Habit expert Nate Macanian
New Years can be a ripe time to introduce new habits or modify existing ones. But anyone who has tried changing lifestyle behaviors is painfully aware of how quickly motivation wanes, intentions flutter, and old patterns slip back into place. It’s only a matter of time before that carton of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream becomes more seductive than pilates class, right?
If you can relate, you’re definitely not alone; it’s estimated that only 8 percent of people end up sticking with their New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps new habits aren’t that “Simple” after all.
The good news is that there are straightforward guidelines that significantly increase your chances of starting and sticking to new routines to help you be your best. Here are 5 essential tips to starting your 2020 habits on the right track.
1. Keep it short
If you decided to run your first marathon, chances are you wouldn’t show up to the race without training beforehand. It seems obvious that before running 26.2 miles, one should probably start by running 3 miles, or 5 miles, or even just going for a walk!
Yet, when forming new habits, many people make the mistake of trying too much, too fast. For example, if your intention is to start a daily meditation routine, be realistic about what you can do. While meditating for 30 minutes a day may be your ultimate goal, having such a high expectation may ultimately damage your motivation. However, meditating for just a few minutes a day will help you work your way up to longer sessions.
“Make it so easy you can’t say no.”
A common saying in the world of habit building is, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.” Eventually, your 5 mile run will evolve to 10 miles, then 15, and eventually, 26.2.
2. Keep it simple
You’ve sat down and wrote all the things you need to be your best in 2020:
- ✓ New gym membership
- ✓ More reading
- ✓ Smarter spending
- ✓ Healthier diet
- ✓ Better sleep
- ✓ Daily meditation
And the list goes on and on. While you may feel inspired to make all these changes at once, research has shown that trying to incorporate more than one habit at a time significantly increases the probability of failure. This should come as good news to you, as it takes the pressure off to become a superhuman overnight.
Remember, make it so easy, you can’t say no.
3. Keep it rewarding
Essentially, habits are patterned behaviors that follow the same format of “Cue → Routine → Reward”.
In this example, you have:
- Cue: Morning alarm
- Routine: Exercising
- Reward: Sensation of physical health
The science of operant conditioning demonstrates that many habits form based on the presence of repeated rewards. Without rewards, the habit formation process can feel arduous, boring, and uninspiring. Finding suitable rewards to follow your new habits can be just as important as performing the behavior itself!
After practicing a 10 minute mindfulness meditation, your reward can be as simple as journaling about your experience, or drinking a cup of warm tea. Get creative in finding ways to reward your new healthy habits!
Luckily, many routines, such as sleeping, learning a new instrument, or even practicing gratitude will have their own natural built-in rewards. The take-home point is that whatever new habit you are engineering, make sure you feel motivated afterward to keep the momentum going!
4. Cues and reminders
Whether you know it or not, cues surround us everywhere. Waking up in the morning may be a habituated cue to brush your teeth (and a fresh, minty feeling is the reward). Laying down in bed at the end of the day is a universal cue to close the eyes and rest.
The success of your habit formation will become much easier if you associate a specific time or place in your day to your routine. Which one sounds easier – trying to meditate every day before breakfast, or sporadically trying to fit in meditation at random timeframes?
To maximize the likelihood of your new habit becoming an automatic and deeply ingrained part of your life, identify a specific moment of your day, and position your habit in a way that feels natural and fluid. Examples include before breakfast, after a shower, or when getting home from work.
5. And finally, keep it fun
This is the most important one of all! Habits can require hard work and discipline, but that doesn’t mean your new behaviors need to become a grim duty.
Return to your intention as often as you can, and if you find yourself slipping every now and then, give yourself some slack. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.
One of the greatest joys in creating new positive practices is sharing it with others. If you are feeling inspired to begin meditating, find a local group to sit with! If you’d like to eat healthier, invite a friend or family member to cook with.
No matter what your wellness goals are, creating new routines and rituals is an undeniably important part of the process. Indeed, a 2006 Duke study showed that 45% of our actions aren’t actually decisions, but deeply ingrained habits.
This new year, give yourself the gift of reliable cues, healthy behaviors, and satisfying rewards. No gift wrapping required!
Ready to build your 2020 habit? Listen to Nate’s Stop Struggling With Meditation series on Simple Habit.
Nate’s teaching journey began as a student at the University of Michigan, where he started a global network of college campus meditation meetups. Since then, he has hosted interactive mindfulness workshops with everyone from 6 year old children in Colorado, to cancer patients in New York, to the most prestigious companies in Silicon Valley. A familiar face in the world of conscious event producers, Nate has been weaving webs of intentional communities throughout the United States, gathering thousands of spiritual seekers at his events and workshops to celebrate mindfulness, music, plant medicine, and stewardship for the outdoors. In addition to teaching meditation, Nate is also a certified Sound Healer and Nutritional Therapist, a Qi Gong practitioner, and psychedelic facilitator.